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Speech of John W. Ellis, March 9th, 1860.


Speech of John W. Ellis, March 9th, 1860.


This is John WIllis Ellis' acceptance speech in 1860. In this speech, Ellis addresses a variety of issues, such as William Seward's comments about slavery and the South, Harpers Ferry, and the changing sentiment in North Carolina about the eminent war.


Tolbert, Noble


"Speech of John Ellis," Raleigh, March 9, 1860, in The Papers of John W. Ellis Volume 2, ed. Noble Tolbert, (Raleigh: State Department of Archives and History, 1964), 386-403.




Hammond, Andrew



Original Format



Mr. President,102 and Gentlemen of the Convention
Your committee has communicated to me the action of the
Convention, and I am here to express to you my profound
obligations for the high confidence you are pleased to repose in
me. A nomination for the office of Governor of the State, by this
intelligent body of gentlemen, is a compliment of which any man
might justly feel proud; but when it is recollected that you are
the representatives of a great political party—expressing their
sentiments and speaking their wishes—your action excites in
me emotions of gratitude and pleasure to which I can give no
adequate expression. The cordial approval of my administration of the affairs of
the State, as expressed by this Convention and by my fellow
citizens in their primary meetings, is esteemed by me as the
most valuable reward of office, and, as such, shall be gratefully
cherished and remembered.
And, Mr. President, I will take this occasion to acquit myself
of a debt of gratitude towards my fellow-citizens of all political
parties in every part of the State, by thanking them most sincerely
for the generous indulgence received at their hands while
in the discharge of my official duties. It is true, my action has
at times been misunderstood, and occasionally misrepresented,
but of these things I make no complaint, well knowing that
sibilities and burthens it imposes; and I shall undertake the
bar of public opinion.
I accept, gentlemen, your nomination, and with it the responthe
conduct of all public servants is rightfully subjected at the
they are almost inseparable from that rigid scrutiny to which
juncture of public affairs. Sixteen years ago, in this Hall, I participated in the first
political meeting of my life, and, like this, it was a Democratic
Convention ; but in every other respect, how widely different the
circumstances that now surround us! Then, we had two great
national parties, each with an organization extending to every
State in the Union; now, we have but one national party,—the
other great political organization of the country being so exclusively
sectional as not to be able to procure a single vote in
one entire section of country embracing an area of 850 thousand
square miles. Then, the subjects of controversy between the two
parties were merely questions of domestic policy, important it is
true, but not vital; now, questions affecting our liberties as a
people, and, it may be, our existence as a nation, are under
Upon these questions the parties are arrayed, and the contest
approaches. Upon the one side the Democratic party, bouyant
with the recollection of many victories gained in the cause of
the country; on the other Freesoilers, black Republicans and
Abolitionists, consolidated and combined. These, sir, are the
two great contending political forces that divide the country. All
others are mere political atoms, that cannot and will not be felt,
except so far as they may affect the contest between the two
main organizations. Such, gentlemen, are the parties to the contest. The issue
between them should be clearly understood, especially here at
the South. I assert, and shall maintain it with the proofs, that
this issue is, whether African slavery shall be abolished here in
the States, where it now exists ? Let us not be deceived upon this
point. Men may talk about our rights in the territories, but
depend upon it they are not the questions now in issue. The
abolition of slavery here at home is the design of our opponents.
This is the bond that cements all the anti-slavery elements in
one solid column against us.
What says Wm. H. Seward, above all others, the true exponent
of the sentiments of the abolition party:
"The 'party of freedom
seeks complete and universal emancipation. It (slavery)
can be and must be abolished, and you and I can and must do it.
It requires only to follow this simple rule of action : To
do everywhere and on every occasion what we can, and not to
neglect or refuse to do what we can at any time, because at that
precise time and on that particular occasion, we cannot do more.**
Everywhere, and upon all occasions, in power and out of power,
this man and his party seek, in his own language, "complete and
universal emancipation." Can proof be clearer or evidence more
convincing ? Of the same tenor is the notorious Rochester speech of this
man, delivered ten years after the sentiment quoted: "It is an
irrepressable conflict between opposing and enduring forces;
and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or
later, become either entirely a slaveholding nation, or entirely
a free labor nation." Here, sir, is the bold announcement that a
state of hostilities exists between the North and the South, which
shall not cease until the one party or the other be conquered,
and trodden under the feet of the victor. It is a declaration of
war against the South by this man and his partizans. Give them
power and it will be used in the prosecution of that war. Your
Army, Navy, and a hundred million of revenue annually, and
as much more as they may choose to extort from the people,
will all be directed against this devoted people.
But is it perfectly certain that Seward speaks the sentiments
of his party? The proof upon this point too, is clear and conclusive.
In a book of infamous notoriety, which has received
the full and complete approval of the black Republican party,
and is now circulated by them as a campaign document,
is this sentiment, among others, equally treasonable : "Our purpose is as firmly fixed as the eternal pillars of heaven. We have
determined to abolish slavery, and so help us God abolish it we
A Senator of the Empire State of the Union,103 under his own
hand, endorses this book, after a careful perusal; a Governor104
of the same State contributes $100 towards its circulation here
among the best customers of his people. This shame, brought
upon the Empire State by unworthy sons and faithless public
officers, is destined, I trust, to be gloriously wiped out by the
Democracy in the coming contest, when the land of Silas Wright
will once more stand proudly forth among the States of the
Union, without a spot or a stain upon her escutcheon.
Is further proof wanted of the designs of these men ? Does the
tragedy of Harper's Ferry teach us nothing? When traitors and
assassins found men to lament their failure and mourn their
discomfiture; when the graves of executed felons drew forth
copious tears, as though one distinguished for patriotic service
to the country had fallen! But the apologists of this man Seward and his followers, boast
that we have Constitutional guaranties that will protect our
property, even though he or one of his associates be elected
President and the Abolitionists placed in power. What, the
Constitution stand in the way of the Abolitionists! What says
this same Mr. Seward on that point? Hear his admonitions to
some of his more innocent followers, who really thought, in the
simplicity of their hearts, that the Constitution of the United
States did possess some binding force : "Correct your own error
that slavery has any Constitutional guaranty which may not be
released and ought not to be relinquished/* Think you that the
Constitution would bind the conscience of a man entertaining
such sentiments? Does not all the world know, too, that one of
the cardinal articles of the Abolition creed is, that there is a law
higher than the Constitution, which claims their first allegiance?
Have not more than a dozen States, where these men now predominate,
adopted laws nullifying an important clause of the Constitution?
Can we hope that men will respect our rights of
property, who incite, aid and abet the murderers of our citizens ?
Expect assassins to keep faith or traitors to observe oaths? Let us not be deceived, my fellow citizens, in a matter so nearly
affecting our personal security and most sacred rights.
But how, it is asked, will these men carry out their Abolition
designs if placed in power ? Let their own great leader answer
"By doing everywhere, and on every occasion, what we can"
Fraud and force would be their favorite means. Secret encouragement
and open aid to assassins like John Brown,105 with an
assurance of protection in case of failure,—just such protection,
except on a large scale, as the black Republican Governor of
Iowa106 gave to one of the Harper's Ferry conspirators.—What
has been done may be done again. Money and arms have already
been plentifully contributed, as we know, to this purpose. Men
in high places aided the treasonable enterprises of John Brown.
Senator Wilson,107 of Massachusetts, admits—not, however, until
the fact was proved by other testimony—that he knew that John
Brown entertained lawless and treasonable designs against the
Southern States, and though disapproving, yet he concealed it
from the country. This, gentlemen, is the case of a man who
comes to you and tells you he intends to murder your neighbor
at the hour of midnight, when asleep in his bed, and to despoil
him of his property. Could you justify yourselves before your
own consciences and your God by simply telling the assassin it is
wrong, and failing to warn your neighbor of the impending
danger? How much more innocent is the conduct of such a man
than that of the murderer himself? Yet such is the conduct of Senator Wilson.
Senator Seward was an accessory before the fact to the transaction,
and as such, could be convicted, upon the testimony of
his accomplice, before any fair-minded and honest jury in
Christendom. Just such testimony has sent many a man to the
gallows here in North-Carolina. Forbes108 acquainted him with
the "whole matter in all its bearings," as he says; yet he concealed
it. A Senator of the United States, sworn to support the
Constitution of his country, harbors in secret recesses of his bosom, a plot of treason against that country and of murder
against its citizens ! Yet, this is the man whom the black Republicans
would make President. With his hands reeking in the blood
of murdered citizens, and the dark stains of perjury thick upon
him, they would place him in the Chair of Washington, and
clothe him with the mantle of the immortal Father of his
This shame, my fellow-citizens, must never come upon the
country. No, never, never. This bold, bad man, with his partizans,
must be beaten down and crushed out, and the Democratic party
can and must do it. Keeping our eyes steadily fixed upon the true
issue involved—whether slavery is to be abolished here in the
South,—and animated by a full sense of the danger that threatens
the country, we will go into the battle under the flag of the
Constitution and the Union—a flag that has never yet sustained
dishonor or defeat at the hands of any foe—and depend upon it
our victory will be as complete and as brilliant as our cause is
just and righteous. But in this vital struggle, we, strangely enough, meet with
obstacles here at home. Our opponents here affect to doubt the
soundness of Northern Democrats, our allies, on the slavery
question. I should be most reluctant to believe this charge to be
true; for then, indeed, would the last hope of this country
have deserted her. No, sir, it is not true. If there are any men
who deserve praise above others for remaining faithful to the
Constitution of the country, they are the noble Democracy of
the Northern States. With no pecuniary interest involved,
with no rights of property at stake—without even the greetings
of popular applause to reward them,—surrounded by adversaries
on all sides, they manfully maintain the unequal contest ; against
detraction and abuse—against fanaticism in all its fierce and
fearful forms, they bravely fight the battle of the Constitution
and the Union. We, the Democrats of North-Carolina, greet
them this day, before the world, as worthy allies in a great cause.
Allow me, Mr. President, to call your attention to a practical
illustration of the difference between a Northern Democrat and
a black Republican. Gov. Packer,109 of Pennsylvania, surrendered
one of the Harper's Ferry traitors, promptly, upon demand of the Governor of Virginia.110 He is a Democrat. Gov. Kirkwood,
111 of Iowa, refused to surrender, upon demand, one of the
same conspirators, but gave him shelter and protection. He is a
black Republican. The one obeyed his oath of office as an honest
man, the other perjured himself before his country and his God.
This, then, is the wide difference between a Northern Democrat
and an abolitionist. And he who professes not to see it, in the
face of evidence so plain, should not complain, if he himself
incurs the suspicion of an obtuseness of vision upon this slavery
Another prediction of our opponents here is, that we will
differ and divide in the Charleston convention, and thus be shorn
of our power to defeat the abolitionists; the last thing in the
world we intend to do. Differ, we often do, but divide never. The
word divide is not to be found in all the great dictionary of the
Democratic language. It only occurs here and there in some
fugitive productions that have no rank among the standard
works of our political literature. Our opponents seem utterly
unable to comprehend the nature of our political organization;
we are a party based upon principle, and have no power to
And, gentlemen of the Opposition, let me say to you here,
now, that those of you who build your hopes of preferment upon
expected divisions in the Democratic party, have a long and
lonely road to travel before reaching your destination.
Why divide? Oh! it is said we differ about certain questions out in the territories. True it is we differ as to the proper construction
of a law of Congress. And we have agreed in that law
itself to submit that question of difference to the determination
of the Supreme Court; a tribunal erected by the Constitution
expressly to perform such duties. No true Democrat fears to
submit any mere legal question, as this is, to the decision of
the Supreme Court, and no true Democrat can refuse to enforce
its decisions when made; and that, too, with all the powers of
the government, whenever their exercise may become necessary
to this end. He who would resist or evade such decisions is not
only a bad Democrat, but a dangerous citizen. No, gentlemen,
there will be no division at Charleston.
The peace of the country requires the black Republican party to be overthrown, and there is no political organization that
can do it but the Democratic party. The country, then, demands
the united services of all Democrats, and depend upon it, as ever
heretofore it will have them. Wherever, throughout our broad
domain, waves the flag of the Republic, there will be seen Democrats
shoulder to shoulder, resisting in solid column the reckless
assailants who would tear down and desecrate this emblem of
our national liberties.
Yet, in view of the plain facts of our situation, an effort is
being made to organize another political power, which effort, it
must be confessed, borders rather on the ludicrous, considering
the very serious nature of the subject. A few respectable gentlemen,
who in times past, held high offices in the government;
politicians of a former generation, nearly all of whom long years
since having selected an involuntary retirement into the "bosoms
of their families," where only, it is said, true contentment is to
be found, assemble in the City of Washington, and gravely undertake
to set up and knock down political organizations just as
boys toss about their jack straws. It may be that these gentlemen were not animated by a desire
for office, yet, when we look at their acts, we can scarcely resist
the suspicion that they at least still have pleasant recollections
of the times when the robes of high office encircled them.
Doubtless when assembled in conclave in the Federal City
the theatre of their former grandeur—and looking each other
in the face, they thought of the past and all its glories,—the
halcyon days that were no more, and indulged in the reveries of
the poet:
"Sweet memory, wafted by the gentle gale,
Oft up the stream of the time I turn my sail
To view the fairy haunts of long lost hours,
Blest with far greener shades, far fresher flowers."
But, it is said, actions speak louder than words ;—let them speak
in this case. These venerable gentlemen and ancient politicians,
in a lengthy address of much sound and little substance, bearing
the charmed date of the 22d February—of course they meant
no appeal to popular prejudices—seriously propose to their
followers throughout the country to send up to their national
Convention two nominees for the Presidency from each State.
Great Heavens! a party with sixty-six candidates for the Presidency
! and that, too, a young party ! aye, a small select party and yet these are the men who modestly charge the Democrats
with a love of office! Now, gentlemen, mark the sequence of
events ! No sooner had this association adjourned than its members
fly off into the States with the lighting speed of the railway
and bravely commence the work of what?—of nominating each
other for the Presidency ! Already they have conferred this honor
upon numbers of their body, and the others are doubtless
anxiously awaiting their turn. It seems to be a sort of Mutual
Admiration Society, entertaining rather a better opinion of themselves
than of other men. They say that they are anxious to save
the country,—aye, so exceedingly anxious that they are unwilling
to trust any one else to be its saviour, except one of their own
number; upon the principle, I suppose, that when a man wants
a thing well done he must do it himself.
It is a sort of political lottery that has no parallel in all the
bogus lotteries that infest the land. Even the great gift lottery
itself, of which we have heard so much, pales before the brilliancy
of this new scheme. I should be glad to find the mathematician,
so proficient in his science as to calculate the chances of
one of these State nominees for the Presidency. In the first
place, the "Wheel of Fortune" that turns out the nominee contains
sixty-five blanks and one prize. Sixty-five chances against
one for the nomination. And then the "Wheel of Fortune" that
turns out the President contains, as nearly as I can estimate in
figures, about sixty-five millions of blanks and no prize at all. This, sir, is the grand Presidential juggle of the "United, Consolidated,
Constitutional, National, Union party!" It presents
one merit, at least, the tickets are cheap ;—the State nominations
cost but little. Call you this a party that is to meet and overwhelm
the hosts of black Republicanism?—this little junta of antiquated
politicians, No, sir, it is not a party, nor even the fraction of a
party; it is a joint stock company of President seekers, nothing
more, nothing less.—This very proposition is an insult to the
American people. They propose to re-enact the miserable farce
of 1856, when Mr. Fillmore112 was run as a third man, and got
just one small State in the Union, and that by brow-beating and
skull-breaking, and he the strongest man among them.
But suppose they get one State out of the thirty-three, an event
scarcely within the range of possibilities,—does not every one
know it will be taking just that much from the strength of the opponents of the abolitionists ? This is a party that can certainly
do no good, and may do some harm. The people of this country
should beware of a party that possesses only the power of doing
In conjunction and unison with the operations of the Joint
Stock Company at Washington, were the transactions of the late
Opposition Convention in this State. The Opposition Convention
it is called, and surely it richly merits the name. It presents a
collection of opposites, contrarities, antagonisms and contradictions,
not to be found elsewhere, in all the uncertain annals of
politics and politicians. They resolve in favor of a system of
ad valorem taxation, and select a gentleman to advocate the
measure before the people, who, but a few months since, in his
solemn and sworn capacity as a legislator, recorded the convictions
of his judgment against it. They propose a Convention to
alter the organic law, and nominate a candidate to go before the
people and say that it is RIGHT, who, but a few short months
since, said, under oath, that it is wrong. They place Mr. Pool,
of 1860, in direct opposition and hostility to Mr. Pool,113 of
1859. They resolve warmly in favor of works of internal improvement,
and to prove their sincerity to the Western people,
select a gentleman to advocate them before the people, whose
first political success was a triumph over a Democrat because
he had supported and given existence and life to these very
measures,—a gentleman who has voted against every Railroad,
in some form, now in course of construction, and who never voted
for, talked for, or worked for, any Railroad that ever has been
built in North-Carolina, or, in my opinion, that ever will be built.
Conduct so extraordinary as this, may seem inexplicable at
the first glance; but it has its explanation, and I feel bound, in
justice to my Opposition friends, who are now absent, to give it.
You will recollect that they passed a similar resolution in 1854,
in favor of Railroads, and the distinguished General114 who led
their forces in that contest, promised the people beyond the Blue
Ridge that he would "bore a hole" through that mountain, should
it cost "ten millions of dollars" Now, it so happened, "in the
fullness of time," that that redoubtable General was placed in
a situation to "bore" that long-promised "hole." The augur was
placed in his hands, and he was requested to "bore," according to contract, but bore he would not—no, not one inch. From that
day to this, those shrewd mountaineers have somewhat distrusted
platforms and politicians upon this subject. And now, in order to
reassure them, to satisfy them fully and entirely that they are in
earnest, and mean to carry out, without fail and without doubt,
their promises to construct Railroads, our opponents have selected
a gentleman to execute these works whose whole life has
been at war with them, and whose whole political course has
been one of unmitigated and unbending opposition to them.
But, despair not, ye long-suffering men beyond the mountains!
This paradox is explained upon the principle that the Opposition
party of North-Carolina, like dreams, "go by contraries."
In the fourth resolution of the series adopted by this Convention,
they magnanimously admit that the adopted citizen is
entitled to protection, like the native; and they take the poor
foreigner into their especial care and keeping, and, strangely
enough, select as his guardian and protector a third degree
Know Nothing. Verily, gentlemen, this is, as the lawyers would
say, "Quasi agnum committere lupo, ad devorandum."
Really, Mr. President, the Opposition seems to be more opposed
to the political acts of their own candidate than to those of the
Democrats. It is certain that upon two of the four planks in
their platform referred to, the Democrats have always stood; and it is equally certain, that upon neither one of them has their
own candidate ever stood. No, not for one solitary moment of
his whole life up to the time of the meeting of their convention.
Again : in their most important resolution our opponents term
themselves, with a self satisfied air of superior excellence, the
"Conservative" party; and in the self same moment lay hands
upon the very pillars of our Constitution, and would shake that
venerated fabric to its basis. They charge the Democrats with
having, to use their own language, "annulled long established
compromises between the conflicting interests of different sections,
broken down the great landmarks of policy erected by our
fathers'* &c. And, in the face of this broad charge, without a
blush and without shame, they themselves propose to 'annul* a
most solemn compromise here at home, and to 'break down' the
"landmarks of policy erected by our fathers," "to reconcile conflicting
interests of different sections," and to bring peace and
contentment to our people. They propose to abrogate a solemn
covenant between the East and the West, made and entered into by the most illustrious names that adorn our history on the part
and in behalf of the whole people of North-Carolina, and ratified
and confirmed by that people. To this covenant Macon,115
Gaston,116 Toomer,117 Fisher,118 Owen,119 Spaight,120 Wilson121
and Meares,122 among the dead, and Branch,123 Morehead,124
Swain,125 Rayner,126 Barringer,127 Edwards,128 Outlaw,129 Biggs,130
Gaither,131 Graves132 and others, of the living, were the high
contracting parties. The author and advocate of this proposition to violate a solemn
covenant (Mr. Badger133
) says :—"I would have opposed it before
the compromise of the amended Constitution of 1835 had been
violated by the Democratic party in passing the bill for free
suffrage in the Senate of the State. We were all bound by that
compromise ; but when violated on the one part it became invalid
on the other," &c. So, the gentleman seems to have thought his
position required an explanation. Most certainly it did, and I
am nothing loath to say, a much better one than he has given.
Without admitting his facts, the conclusion to which he arrived
is neither good law nor sound morals. The violation of one stipulation
in a covenant is not an abrogation of all others. If a man
bind himself in a bond to perform a certain labor, and to pay,
also, a sum of money, his failure to perform the labor is no release
of his obligation to pay the money. If the free suffrage Act was a
wrong, which I do not admit, it is no justification for the perpetration
of another wrong. Sir, from the day that the Creator
himself made a covenant with Moses and Israel, in the wilderness
of Sinai, covenants have been most sacredly revered by all Christian
people ; and surely none can be of a more solemn character,
and more binding force, than one made among the members of
a great political community, to prevent internal discord and to
secure domestic peace. I view this compromise in our Constitution from a stand point
higher than any mere party ground. The owners of slave property
have the same right to claim that it be observed as to ask that
those in the Constitution of the United States in their favor, be
not broken. The same reasoning sustains both. If the one falls,
upon what ground shall we uphold the other? By my voice, at
least, it shall not fall. Come what will, I shall stand by it; and
if, as predicted by my opponents, I go down in the contest, I
will, at all events, have the consolation of knowing that I fall in
the defense of the Constitution of my country,—that Temple of
Liberty under whose protecting arches three generations of
contented and happy men have lived, and prospered, and enjoyed
a civil liberty without a parallel in the annals of free peoples.
A more honorable political grave I could not expect, and certainly
do not desire.
But, sir, let me return to the contradictions of our opponents,
as the catalogue is not yet exhausted. They highly commend, and justly too, their members in Congress for voting for a
Democrat to beat a black Republican, yet they refuse to do the
same thing themselves, out of Congress. They say to their
members, you did right to vote for a Democrat to defeat an
Abolitionist; it was a noble, self-sacrificing act, an offering of
patriotism on the altar of country, induced by a love of the
Constitution and the Union, but for the life of us we can't do
the same thing ourselves. We can't march up to that point of
patriotic sacrifice for the country, although we do "march to
the music of the Union."
The proposition is a plain one, and admits of no alternative.
If it was important to defeat a black Republican Speaker, it is
still more important to defeat a black Republican President. If
the Opposition members of Congress did right, then the opposition
members of this Convention did wrong—a conclusion
from which there is no escape. I am reminded, Mr. President,
by this resolution of thanks, that our Opposition Convention
adjourned without finishing up their business. Yes,
sir, carefully as was their platform gotten up, and lengthy as
is their series of resolves, there occurs in their proceedings an
important omission to which I will advert. After adopting the
resolution of thanks to their members of Congress, it certainly
became their duty and hence a part of their business to pass
also a resolution of thanks to the Hon. John Kerr, Daniel M.
Barringer, James W. Osborne134 and a host of other good and true Whigs, who from a sense of public duty voted for Mr.
Buchanan135 to defeat a black Republican for President. This,
sir, is a part of the unfinished business of the Grand Council
which ought certainly, to be performed, and that speedily by the
Subordinate Lodges throughout the State.
Perhaps, Mr. President, the most melancholy spectacle, in all
the proceeding of our opponents, is that exhibited in the persons
of two grave and venerable Ex-Senators coming forward to
illustrate the consistency of long lives spent in the advocacy of
specific taxes, and those, too, of a protective character, by speaking
for and voting for a rigid, unbending and uniform rule of
ad valorem—a tax upon all things of one uniform per centage on the value. Of course they were animated by no desire for office,
no not they, the Democrats only are the office seekers,—they were
impelled to this step, doubtless, merely by a desire to unburthen
the conscience of the conviction of a great political error, and
to set right the younger generation of men, whom, all their life
long, they had led wrong, a sort of death bed repentance, as
it were.
One of these gentlemen, formerly an unsuccessful candidate
for the Vice Presidency and now seeking the honors of martyrdom
in the Presidential field, is himself the father of that principle
of discriminating against luxuries in favor of articles of
necessity that pervades our entire revenue system. This offspring
was born of his message of 1846, in which he asked the Legislature
to augment the revenue, by taxing "pleasure carriages, gold
watches," and "other articles of luxury." Now he comes forward
to destroy this work of his own creation.
He says now, that the land of the hard working man, upon
which he makes a subsistence for his family, the growing citizens
of the State, should be taxed just as high as the gold and
silver plate that decorates the abodes of the luxurious; that the
plough horse that tills the crop of the man who eats his bread
"in the sweat of his face," shall be taxed as much as the racer
of the man of pleasure; that the pleasure carriage and the road
wogan; the billiard table and the threshing machine; the pack of a gambler's cards and the family bible ; the spirits that make
drunk the inebriate, and the medicine administered to the sick,
shall be taxed alike under one equal horizontal and unbending
rule of ad valorem. Sir, he stands not only in opposition to his
own former actions, but in opposition to the lessons taught mankind
by all nations in the past history of the world. For this
assertion I plant myself upon the undoubted truths of all history.
There never was, never will be, and never can be, a people governed
by such a system of taxation as these two distinguished
ex-Senators now propose for us here in North-Carolina. This,
sir, is the fruit of a most sudden conversion from extreme
error in the opposite direction, not an unfrequent result attending
over-sudden conversions in one's political or religious faith.
It is an awkward attempt at imitating the ad valorem taxation
as advocated by the Democratic party.
The Tariff Act of 1846, will show the striking difference
between Democratic and Opposition ad valorem taxation. That act classifies all imports, taxing each class ad valorem, but discriminating
as between the classes, and contains a free list upon
which there is no tax. For instance, brandies, spirits, &c, in
class No. 1, are taxed one hundred per cent on their value, while
plaster paris and other fertilizers, &c, in class 8, are taxed but
five per cent, on the value ; and tea and coffee, &c, in class No. 9,
are not taxed at all. Such is the nature of a Democratic ad
valorem tax, adjusted with a due regard to the varied interests
of the people. But our opponents in their sudden conversion to
the ad valorem principle, rush into extremes and would send the
tax-gatherer into every house, with inquisitorial powers, exacting
with a relentless hand, a tax upon every species of property
great and small; every thing that we eat, drink and wear, from
the time we come into the world until we go out of it, from the
cradle to the grave,—making no discrimination between necessaries
and luxuries—those things that are essential to the support
of life and such as lead to vice and idleness.
Such, sir, is this ad valorem platform of our opponents, erected
by Senatorial wisdom, and upon which they have planted themselves
in fancied security. But they will desert it. Before the
summer's sun stands erect in the heavens every mother's son of
them will scamper from it as rats flee a burning barn.
But, gentlemen, the crowning contradiction exhibited by this
Convention, is yet to be named. Though nine tenths, at least, of
its members were Americans, they nominate as their first choice for the Presidency a gentleman who always carefully disavowed
any connection with the Order. His public communication of a
year or two past, invariably contained an unostentatious little
expression, somewhat parenthetically thrown in, as if merely to
adorn a sentence—"Though not a member of the Order." Modest
as this expression appeared at the time, it was big with meaning,
and like seed sown upon good ground was expected some day to
"bring forth fruit." To the Americans it said, "you go forward
and if you get your fingers burnt in this political experiment
then, I am not a member of the Order; but, if you succeed, I
am with you, because of the old Whig bond of sympathy between
us." And to the leaders of the American party it said, "heads I
win, tails you lose," and so indeed, it has come to pass. Where
were these leaders when this nomination was made? And above
all, he the most gallant and the most eloquent, whose clarion
voice led their columns to the charge, rallied them in the repulse, and when defeat came cheered their drooping spirits in their
disastrous retreat, and when exposed to the cold and pitiless
storms of adversity—and cold and pitiless they were indeed
still manfully proclaimed to the world : "I am a member of the
Order." All superseded for one who always said, and now,
doubtless greatly rejoices, that he never was a member of the
Order. Alas, gentlemen, what a sad forgetfulness of their
own great watchword, "put none but Americans on guard to
Such, sir, are some of the inconsistencies and contradictions
of the late Opposition Convention. But in one particular they
were consistent with all their former conduct ; and as consistency
is said to be a jewel, it is but right and proper that this their
jewel should be allowed to shine forth in its own resplendent
brilliancy—a sort of lone star in their political firmament. In
their proceedings and speeches they appropriate the choicest
epithets of abuse that our language affords to the Democratic
party; but not one harsh saying have they for the black Republicans.
They charge the Democrats with the most heinous crimes
and misdemeanors, yet not even a "soft impeachment" of the
Abolitionists is to be heard from them; and in this, sir, at least,
they are consistent with themselves.
Among their charges against the Democrats, is one of grave
import. They charge that we have caused the present agitation
throughout the country, and brought discord among a quiet and
contented people, by the repeal of the Missouri Compromise line. When the orators of the Convention hurled this blow at the
Democracy, there was a gentleman of their own number, who,
doubtless, with no little trepidation dodged, lest it might fall
upon his own head. A very prominent ex-Senator among them,
spoke for and voted for the repeal of this lamented Missouri line.
A fact beyond all controversy, however, illy it may comport with
that other fact that the same gentleman penned that charge in
their bill of indictment, that the Democrats had "annulled long
established compromises between conflicting interests" &c.
Sir, there is a plain fact to which the attention of the country
should be called. Our opponents say, the Democratic party must
be put down. So says Wm. H. Seward. In his Rochester speech,
he says : "The Democratic party must be permanently dislodged
from the government. The reason is, that the Democratic party
is inextricably committed to the designs of the slaveholders" It matters nothing as to the motives of men who are working
to accomplish the same end. And if this end be accomplished; if
the Democratic party does go down, does not the whole world
know that upon its ruins will be established the abolition party?
Such, Mr. President, is this party of opposites. But, their
opposition will prove unavailing. The minds of the people cannot
be diverted from the true issue before the country. The safety of
our property, and the repose of the republic, depend upon the
result. Greater incentives to united and harmonious action could
not be presented to the minds of freemen. They will produce
their results. They will arouse that love of country inherent in
the American heart, and which is never found wanting when
that country is endangered. Personal rivalries and party differences
will alike disappear, as the fight thickens and the danger
approaches. The arts of the politician will then lose their charm,
and the people—Opposition and Democratic—will stand together
in serried ranks under the banner of the Constitution and the
Union. Be of good cheer, my fellow citizens, the battle is for the
country and not for party; and as the object for which we fight
is great, our victory will be glorious.


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Tolbert, Noble, Speech of John W. Ellis, March 9th, 1860. , Civil War Era NC, accessed July 17, 2024,