JOHNSON, Andrew. Autograph letter signed ("Andrew Johnson") as Senator, to General Samuel Milligan, Washington, D.C., 13 January 186. 7½ pages, 8vo (9 x 5¾ in.), two sections of two leaves attached at left margin, fine.
JOHNSON CONDEMNS SECESSION: "THE COUNTRY MUST BE SAVED AND EVERYBODY MUST COME UP TO THE WORK"
A letter written during the critical first days of the secession crisis in which Johnson vehemently and passionately denounces secession. Johnson, a self-made southern politician who despised the planter aristocracy, was serving as Senator from Tennessee when South Carolina left the Union. He deplored the actions of the secessionists and fought to assure that his own state did not follow their lead. Here, just after the fourth state had announced secession, Johnson expresses his outrage to General Milligan, a veteran of the Mexican War and his lifelong mentor: "The Press of Tennessee...is now under the control of a set of editors who prefer mendacity to truth, and treason to patriotism. I say to you that the country is rife with conspiracy and treason and full of Traitors who are ready and willing to destroy the Country. I hope that there is still intelligence enough and virtue in the Country sufficient to save it. But it will require greater effort to do it." Considering the task he faces in keeping Tennessee loyal, he writes: "If Tennessee can be held firm for the present She can here after be made to perform a conspicuous part in Saving the country from civil and servile war. We should all do what we we could in saving the Union from the hands of the spoilers."
Johnson, who had previously supported slavery despite his opposition to secession, addresses the institution in regards to the current crisis: "it is not guarantees in reference to Slavery they want; it is a govmnt [in the] South so that they can have true absolute control of it in their own home and would expect today a monopoly if they had [it] in their power...and [they] now desire to have a govmnt so organized as to put the institution of Slavery beyond the reach or vote of the nonslaveholder at the ballot box." Stating his belief that Tennessee will remain loyal, he predicts: "The North in my opinion will give the middle States any reasonable guarantee they desire which would make us much more secure in slave property then if they were a separate hostile power."
Calling upon the democratic traditions of the nation, Johnson denies the political legitimacy of secession: "I have taken my stand upon principle and the doctrines taught by the fathers of the republic...the more I investigate the doctrine of Secession the more and more its falicy and enormity becomes manifest. No Government...can be preserved if this principle is recognized." He continues: "To admit that any one man of a community whether of states or individuals can withdraw at pleasure from the community is a fundamental error and will result in its overthrow...I look upon Secession...as being the prolific mother of anarchy which is the next step to despotism. It is a political heresy and ought to be repudiated now as such." Referring to a conciliatory speech by William Seward, Johnson writes: "...it seemed not to satisfy the extreme southern men." Arguing that if the people had a choice they would accept a compromise, he concludes: "the Country must be saved and everybody must come up to the work...God save [the] Government is my prayer."
Unable to prevent the secession of Tennessee, Johnson remained loyal to the Union, was the only southerner to remain in the Senate, and was an avid supporter of the Lincoln Administration.
Provenance: The Philip D. Sang Collection (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 26 April 1978, lot 151).