Mr. Stuart's Address
July 2, 1866
Alexander H.H. Stuart delivers an address at the commencement ceremony of the University of Virginia, explaining his reasoning that slavery was not the true cause of the war. He reveals that earlier on, Radical politicians would not fully contend for blacks' civil rights although they saw slavery as the root of all evil.
The north taking the opposition of the south to the measure as an evidence of hostility to her system of free labor, declared war on slave labor, and: has unrelentingly prosecuted it ever since. The prejudice against slavery has been fostered, not with any view to the interest of the negro, but that in time it might serve as an auxiliary in the contest for the ascendancy of New England politics and interests in the national councils. Therefore the true causes of the war must be sought for behind and beyond slavery. The great question, whether our government was federal or national, had not yet been answered. Slavery, one of the disturbing elements, was out of the way, but it remained to be seen whether the victory gained by the advocates of consolidation was final and complete. That question was to be decided by the great West. The west had never had any definite policy of her own. The time would soon come for the development of western ideas and policy; and these were destined to give shape and direction to the politics of the country. Radical writers and politicians claimed that slavery was the "sum of all villainies," and that the slave had been degraded and debased ; and yet they contended that the negro, who had for two centuries passed through this system of debasement and degradation, was amply qualified, without further ado, to assume the rights of citizenship, while the intelligent foreigner was subjected to a probation of five years. According to their own showing, then, this much-abused institution has been the means of converting a handfull of cannibal savages into an enlightened nation of Christian freedmen, superior in the attributes of citizenship to a foreigner, and equal to the intelligent white man of New England. Having traced the causes of the war, Mr. Stuart now entered into its consequences, lie had never been a believer in an "irrepressible conflict " between the two labor systems, and had always thought that with enlightened statesmanship and catholic patriotism the difficulty could have been settled without an appeal to arms. Several important questions had been finally and conclusively settled by the stern arbitrament of the sword ; among them the following: I. "That the right of a State to secede from the Union, or to nullify an act of the Federal Legislature, must hereafter be regarded as an 'obsolete idea.' II. That all debts, Confederate, State, or municipal, contracted in aid of the war, are absolutely null and void, and must be forever ignored and repudiated. III. "That slavery is finally and forever abolished within the jurisdiction of the United States, and freedmen are to be invested with and protected by law in the enjoyment of every necessary civil right." The right of secession had been authoritatively decided in the negative, and the fact must be recognized, for there was no middle ground between submission to the authority of the Federal Government and revolution. We would have to seek redress for grievances by appeal to the tribunals ordained by the Constitution. Should oppression become intolerable, we might be justified, as our forefathers did, in seeking a remedy through revolution. The repudiation of all debts contracted in aid of the war was a logical consequence of the result of the contest, and upon this point there was no room for a difference of opinion. The extinction of slavery involving much larger interests, and more practical and far-reaching consequences than either of the other propositions, the speaker entered into a more extended notice of it. The Virginia people had heretofore all manifested a great love for country life, and the professional man, merchant, and mechanic mere all accustomed to look forward to the day when they might be able to become landed proprietors. When they had succeeded, they purchased estates, and surrounding themselves with every comfort, lived in the exercise of that generous hospitality for which Virginia was always noted. But all things were to pass away. A sturdy race of yeomanry would in time possess and till tho lands. Baronnial mansions would go to decay or ftirnish material for tho construction of dwellings more suited to the laboring man. Refinement, cultivation, and elegant tastes would be constrained, as in the north, to seek refuge in the cities.
About this article
“Mr. Stuart's Address,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed March 23, 2019, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/239.