A desperate appeal from John Minor Botts

Posted on February 27, 2013 by


Botts at his home, "Auburn", with his family, in Culpeper County.

Botts at his home, “Auburn”, with his family, in Culpeper County.

I abstracted the following from the May 9, 1861 edition of the Virginia Free Press (Charles Town, Virginia). The same letter had actually preceded the Free Press printing by almost a week, in the New York Times. Along with various remarks throughout, I find his five year prediction most interesting.

For those who may be unfamiliar with him, John Minor Botts was a strong Unionist from Virginia (if that isn’t obvious enough from his letter). If you haven’t seen my other posts about him, take a look at this post (almost two years ago from today, coincidentally) for another interesting reflection on Botts.

Now, I realize this isn’t Sesqui-timed, but something what he has to say is so incredibly saturated with emotion and worthy of passing along. I’ll have another piece, by another Unionist, to pass along before the end of the week, which also appeared in the Free Press. Comparing this letter to the other might make for interesting considerations. Keep in mind two things… conditional Unionism… unconditional Unionism.

Good stuff… enjoy…

Letter of John M. Botts

RICHMOND, Friday, April 19, 1861.

MY DEAR SIR: Your letter of yesterday has been received. Before this you will have learned through the Press all that has occurred at Norfolk and at this place. But I cannot begin to give you a just conception of the excitement created, not only here, but throughout the whole Southern country, by the proclamation of the 15th, which, in many respects, may be regarded as the most unfortunate document that ever issued from the Government. In the absence of that paper this State could not have been carried out of the Union; with it the Union Party and the Union feeling has been almost entirely swept out of existence. You cannot meet with one man in a thousand who is not inflamed with a passion for war, and every one seems to regard the proclamation as a declaration of war for the subjugation of the entire South and for the extermination of Slavery; reason (with them on this point) would as soon arrest the motion of the Atlantic as it would check the current of their passions.

When I saw you in Washington, some ten days since, I had the honor to lay before you and other members of the Cabinet, as well as before Mr. LINCOLN himself, a plan for the settlement of our troubles, through the medium of a National Convention, to give to the Seceded States levee to withdraw. I thought then, as I do now, that the plan then suggested was the only solution to the dreadful crisis which was upon us. Since that time matters have assumed a far more frightful aspect, and I now venture to make one more effort to save the unnecessary effusion of brothers’ blood; and, in the name of liberty, humanity and Christianity, I implore you to give it your earnest and solemn deliberation.

I need hardly say that no man in this nation has held in higher appreciation the value of our blessed Union; no man has labored more constantly and earnestly for its perpetuation than I. No man’s heart can bleed more freely for its loss than mine; no man can mourn more sorrowfully for its overthrow than I will. No man can condemn more severely the immediate causes that have so unnecessarily led us into this awful and terrible catastrophe than I do. Yet, for the first time, after an entire night of sleepless reflection, when I prayed as I never prayed before for wisdom and strength to do my duty, my mind has been brought to the conclusion that a dissolution is an inevitable decree of fate.

I am satisfied that a contest on the part of the General Government, with its perfect military organization, powerful naval forces, its command of money, and its credit without limit, backed by eighteen or twenty millions of people, against eight millions, without military organization, without naval forces, without money or credit, is not likely to be of doubtful result in the end; but after that, what then? Can the Union be preserved on such terms, or would it be worth preserving if it could? After the best blood of the country has been shed in a war which has passion, prejudice, and unnatural mutual hate for its foundation, intensified by the conflict, could the two sections ever be brought together as one people again? And would it not require large standing armies, in constant active service, to conquer and maintain peace? And would not that end at last in a hateful, loathsome military despotism?

If I am right in all this, would not a peaceful separation, not as a military necessity, but as a triumph of reason, order, law, liberty, morality, and religion over passion, pride, prejudice, hatred, disorder, and the force of the mob, be a far wiser and more desirable solution of the problem than such scenes as will result from a purely sectional warfare, (result as it may,) and from which the heart sickens, and the soul recoils with honor?

You may cut, maim, kill, and destroy; you may sweep down battalions with your artillery; you may block up commerce with your fleets; you may starve out
the thousands and tens of thousands of the one miles of the Government; you may overrun but you cannot subjugate the United South; and If you could not do it without inflicting an equal amount of misery upon those who are its best friends, and who have stood, so long as there was a plank to stand upon, by the side of the Union, the Constitution, and the laws. Our streets may run red with blood; our dwellings may be leveled with the earth; our fields may be laid waste; our hearthstones may be made desolate; and then, at the last, what and has been gained? Why, the Government has exhibited its power, with has never been questioned but by the idle, the ignorant, and the deluded, and for the display of which there will be abundant opportunities without an effort now, on either side, to cut each other’s throats.

So far from its being regarded as a betrayal of weakness by the other Powers of the globe, will it not be looked upon in the present emergency as an act of magnanimity and heroism on the part of the more powerful patty to propose terms of peace? Let me, then, as a strong, devoted, unalterable friend of the Union.(if it could be maintained,) — let the, as a conscientious and unchangeable opponent of the fatal heresy of secession, urge upon this Administration the policy of issuing another proclamation proposing a truce to hostilities, and the immediate assembling of a National Convention to recognize the independence of such of the States as desire to withdraw from the Union, and make the experiment of separate Government, which it will not as I think, take them long to discover is the most egregious error that man, in his hour of madness, ever committed.

In five years from this time the remaining United States would be stronger and more powerful than the thirty-four States were six months ago — and you will have a Government permanent and endearing for all time to come, to which all who seek an asylum from oppression may resort hereafter.
I will not undertake to speculate on the experiment of a Southern Republic; my opinions on that subject are well defined, and too well understood to make it necessary that they should be canvassed here. Let it be trice, and let it work out its own salvation.

If this policy can be adopted, all I shall ask for myself will be the privilege of retiring to some secluded spot, where I can live in peace and mourn over the downfall of the best Government — wisely administered — with which man was ever blessed.

I could no willingly take up arms against a Union that I have been taught and accustomed to adore, as indispensable to my own liberties, and I never will raise my hand against my native State, although her arm has ever been against me and mine.

For God’s sake, let me implore you to let wisdom, magnanimity, true courage and humanity prevail in your councils, and give peace to a distracted and dissevered country.

I write as one who feels that he is standing on the brink of the grave of all he has cherished on earth; my head is bowed down with grief over the madness that rules the hour, and I pray God to give me the wisdom to know and the strength to perform my duty, my whole duty to my country, my State and my friends. I am, with great respect, yours, &c.


Hon. EDWARD BATES, Attorney-General, &c.
Will you grant me the favor to lay this last effort to serve my country before the Cabinet at its first meeting? I appeal to you as a native son of Virginia to do it. J.M.B.