Document 13: Letter from Charles Pelham to Martha Coffin Wright, 6 December 1860, Osborne Family Papers, Department of Special Collections, Syracuse University Library.
Several years after their disagreement about the beating of Senator Sumner, Martha Wright and Charles Pelham were still corresponding. The following letter expressed Pelham’s enthusiasm over the prospect of the secession of his home state of Alabama from the Union after Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 presidential election, his hatred of Northerners in general, as well as fond feelings for his Northern relatives. It provides an interesting window into the conflicting feelings of family members on opposing sides of the coming conflict.
Dec 6th, 1860.
From some cause you fail’d to ans. my last letter, but as you are now probably rejoicing over yr. late victory, you will pardon me for writing to you. We don’t feel mortified at our defeat. I for one rejoice that we have an oppy. for “precipitating the cotton states into a revolution.”
I have tho’t for a long time that we wd. get along more amicably as two independt nations--and your party think so too.-- The conflict (irrepressible)[A] has indeed begun; if we of the S. are crushed out, we will never complain. It is now settled beyond a doubt, that Alabama will secede alone, if she must,--but we hope to carry out ten states. Our citizens were very indignt. 20 days ago, but since there is no opposition to secession, every thing is quiet--and we all feel confident that we will soon have a glorious Southn Confederacy, with our own gallant & brave William L. Yancy[B] for our Prest. Some of us regret to leave the Union of our fathers (I am not one of that number, however,) but no alternative presents itself; and hereafter we will regard & hold the N. as we do the balance of Mankind--“friends in peace, enemies in war.”
If the S. had submitted to Lincoln’s election, I intended to have sold what few negroes I now have, & have gone to the North West. But I am proud to say that our people have enough of the spirit of our forefathers, to resist oppression, & to throw off the chains wh. wd. make them the slaves of a tyrannizing majority.
I remember that you were an adherent of Fremont, four yrs. ago.[C] I have not heard from you in a long time, & hope you have seen fit to change yr. opinions in regard to the institution of Slavery, & that in the last race you were opposed to Lincoln;--I scarcely hope it either, but wish it were true.
If any of my former letters offended you, I now ask yr. forgiveness. I had hoped to see you again, before this, & make an apology, but now, it is too late. If I ever go North now, it will not be on an errand of love.
Our frds. have secured bro. John[D] a high position in the 1st Battalion of the Ala. Corps of Volunteers, & if I can get a good office, I shall join the Army. I guess there will not be much lawing done here for several yrs. to come.[E] I regret very much that you, or any one who is related to a Pelham, lives N. of 36°30”, for I shall rejoice to hear of the bread mobs, the wails & groans of starving operatives in the N. as much as I will to see Alabama take a high position among the Nations of the Earth. Nothing wd. give me more pleasure than to see you & my cousin Marianna settled at the South--till then I must bid you a long farewell, for on the 3rd day of March next, the copartnership existing between the Sovereignty of Alabama & the Union, will be dissolved.
A. A reference to the famed 1858 “irrepressible conflict” speech of William Henry Seward, in which he said that slavery presented an “irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slave-holding nation or entirely a free-labor nation.” See John M. Taylor, William Henry Seward: Lincoln’s Right Hand (New York: Harper Collins, 1991).
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B. William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama had been calling for secession as early as 1851. He did not gain the Confederate Presidency, but he did head a three-man commission sent to Europe by the Confederate State Department in 1861 in an attempt to win diplomatic recognition.
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C. John C. Frémont was the first Republican candidate for President in 1856. James Buchanan, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, narrowly won that election.
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D. John Pelham was at this time still at West Point, hoping that hostilities would not start before June, when he was scheduled to receive the degree for which he had been studying for five years. After the firing on Fort Sumter, John traveled south to Alabama, but visited Martha and Marianna in Philadelphia on the way (see documents 17 and 18).
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E. Charles was a lawyer.
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