Monday, July 15, 2013

William Lowndes Yancey's Prophetic Insight

Born at Ogeechee Falls, Georgia in 1814, educated at academies in New York and New England, South Carolina and later Alabama editor, William Lowndes Yancey prophetically predicted the rise of the consolidationist Republican party.  He foresaw the States becoming "but tributaries to the powers of the General Government," and their sovereignty enfeebled.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman

North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission

"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

William Lowndes Yancey's Prophetic Insight

". . . Yancey had been an unconditional Unionist . . . But in 1838 disturbing reports, which led him to pause, study the Constitution, and consider the nature of the Union, began to reach his desk. His indignation and fears seem to have been first aroused by the abolitionist petitions which were agitating Congress and the country, and in one of his editorials declared:

"The Vermont resolutions have afforded those deluded fanatics – the Abolitionists – another opportunity for abusing our citizens, and endeavoring to throw firebrands into the South, to gratify a malevolent spirit.  They well know that they have no right to . . . meddle with our rights, secured to us by the Constitution; but to gratify the worst of feelings, while at the same time and in many instances, the endanger our safety, they press upon Congress the consideration of this subject."

This editorial went on to express a fear that there was "a settled determination, on the part of those fanatics, to form themselves into a small band of partisans," and thereby to gain the balance of power and determine elections.

Yancey's fears of despotism under the cloak of the Federal Union were intensified by the election of the friends of the United States Bank.  He reported a series of resolutions condemning the bank, supporting the President [Jackson] in his fight on it, and approving "well conducted State Banks." The second resolution [declared]:

"We deem the struggle now going on between the people, and the United States Bank partisans, to be a struggle for pre-eminence between the State-Rights principles of 1798, and Federalism in its rankest state; and that in the triumph of the Bank, if destined to triumph, we would mournfully witness the destruction of the barriers and safeguards of our Liberties."

In the spring of 1839 Yancey and his brother bought and consolidated the Wetumpka (Alabama) Commercial Advertiser and the Wetumpka Argus.  The next spring when Yancey took personal charge of the newspaper, he announced that it would support a policy of strict construction in national politics and a State policy of reform in banking, internal improvements, and public education within reach of every child.

[With the] opening of the presidential campaign of 1840, [Yancey] believed the issue between State rights and consolidation to have been clearly drawn.  Twelve years of Jacksonian democracy had destroyed the bank, provided for the extinction of the protective features of the tariff, and checked internal improvements at federal expense.  Therefore, if the friends of the bank, the protective tariff, and internal improvements expected to enjoy the beneficence of a paternalistic government, they must gain control of the administration at Washington, and consolidate its powers.  Thus to them the selection of a Whig candidate for the presidency was an important question, and from their point of view Henry Clay seemed to be the logical choice.

[Yancey editorialized] to show that the abolitionists, having defeated [Henry] Clay in the convention, now contemplated using their power to defeat Martin Van Buren in the election, disrupt the Democratic party, and absorb the Whigs.  To Yancey it seemed clear that [a] coalition of Whigs and abolitionists would put the South in a minority position . . . that the minority position of the South demanded "of its citizens a strict adherence to the States Rights Creed."

He declared:

"Once let the will of the majority become the rule of [Constitutional] construction, and hard-featured self-interest will become the presiding genius in our national councils – the riches of our favored lands offering but the greater incentive to political rapacity."

Furthermore, he foresaw with inexorable logic that once the general government was permitted to exercise powers, not expressly given to it, for subsidies to industry and for the building of roads and canals, it was as reasonable to claim constitutional authority for subsidies for agriculture and labor.

Yancey foretold with prophetic insight the consequences of the application of the consolidationists creed. He said it would result in a "national system of politics, which makes the members of the confederacy but tributaries to the powers of the General Government – enfeebling the sovereign powers of the States – in fact forming us into a great consolidated nation, receiving all its impulses from the Federal Capitol."

And in strikingly modern language he warned the people that, if the tendencies toward consolidation continued, the Constitution would "have its plainly marked lines obliterated, and its meaning . . .left to be interpreted by interested majorities – thus assembling every hungry and greedy speculator around the Capitol, making the President a King in all but name – and Washington a "St. Petersburg," – the center of a vast, consolidated domain."

(William L. Yancey's Transition from Unionism to State Rights, Austin L. Venable, Journal of Southern History, Volume X, Number 1, February 1944, pp. 336-342)