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Title: Senior Speech of Elijah B. Withers, November 7, 1858: Electronic Edition.
Author: Withers, Elijah B.
Funding from the University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Bari Helms
Images scanned by Bari Helms
Text encoded by Risa Mulligan
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 17K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-12-02, Risa Mulligan finished TEI/XML encoding.
Title of collection: Records of the Dialectic Society (#40152), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: Senior Speech of Elijah B. Withers, November 7, 1858
Author: Withers, E. B.
Description: 11 pages, 11 page images
Note: Call number 40152 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
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Senior Speech of Elijah B. Withers, November 7, 1858

The American Union a Failure
Withers, Elijah B.

Page 1
Senior Speech
E. B. Withers
Nov. 7th 1858

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I am well aware, Mr. President and fellow members, that I have chosen for my theme a subject, which grates harshly on the ears of my young and ardent hearers, and would apologize if I thought that my reasoning and arguments would influence your opinions in the least either in regard to the stability of our Republic or lessen your estimation of the deep debt of gratitude we owe its founders or weaken your efforts in preserving untarnished the Constitution of our Fathers.
But since I know that its only effect will be to direct your attention to some of the most objectional features of our government, and cause them thereby to receive your serious attention and consideration. I will, without fear of censure on your part, candidly declare

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my opinions, let the result be what it may. Then why do I say that the American Union is a failure, and by what process of reasoning have I arrived at that conclusion. It is because I have learned in reviewing the history of the past, what the most casual observer cannot fail to perceive, that nations, like individuals, have their periods of birth, maturity, and decay, that they have always commenced in poverty with virtue and patriotism, and by the advancement of their arts and success and glory of their arms, have arisen to distinction and world wide renown, and have at last by ambition, corruption, and luxury fallen into obscurity and insignificance.
This may be affirmed, without fear of successful contradiction, of every country that risen, flourished and fallen, and notwithstanding Orators have exhausted all of the power and beauty of eloquence and art of rhetoric extolling its praises. Notwithstanding

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statesmen have pronounced it superior to any other government ever fabricated by human hands, notwithstanding Poets after having drawn from their imaginations and applied to it, as to something divine, high sounding periods, sonorous epithets, and ideal perfection. Yet the most casual observer cannot fail to perceive that the American Union contains within herself the seeds of her own destruction, which have already engrafted themselves so strongly into her most vital parts that the same storm which uproots them will bury her beneath their rubbage.
And besides we know that man is an imperfect and fickle being and consequently all of his works must be imperfect and changeable according to the laws of nature. What folly it is to expect or even hope for permanency and stability while she remains so imperfect and impotent.

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By referring to the past history of this Union, we will learn that she, like all other governments, had her commencement in poverty and that her citizens were distinguished for their patriotism, morality, and just appreciation of the benefits and advantages conferred by the Union, and were, necessarily, rivals in preserving, unaltered, the Constitution and the liberties conferred by it. Yes in the earlier days of the Republic, worth and merit were the only passports for office and trust under the Constitution, but they have, long since, been superseded by political demagogism and public bribery. In order that we may justly decide whether the expectations and hopes of the founders of this Union have been realized, let us compare the injuries and page torn intended to be redressed by it, the rights and privileges to be conferred and the power and influence intended

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to be exerted over the destiny of the Western hemisphere, and will see, by so doing, that she has most signally failed in every instance to accomplish the desired result. What, then were the principal objects for which this Union was founded.
It was intended to be a protection against foreign enemies and a regulator of internal strifes and domestic feuds — an asylum for the persecuted and oppressed of other countries — and a security for the lives and property of its own inhabitants. How successfully it has accomplished these intentions, let the present evil times and the more gloomy future answer. Are not the great dissimilarity and differences in the internal administration of the several states threatening daily its precarious existence. Slow I am to acknowledge the facts yet the truth is evident I cannot

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deny it, for even now the rights of the States, sanctioning domestic slavery are no longer respected by those free from this class of persons. A numerical majority of the Northern people, in their pretended zeal for the civil freedom of the slaves, are daily trampling upon our undoubted rights and destroying with impunity our property. Notwithstanding they are acting in direct violation of that Constitution which they are sworn to preserve inviolate. And while their passions are thus enkindled inbehalf of the slave, their animosity to the master is often proportioned to their false sympathy for the slave, and thus they are daily widening the breach between us and weakening the strength of the Union by encouraging our slaves to resist our authority, and by taunting us with the midnight incendiaries of the inhuman slave maddened into

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This Union, which has been properly called a compromise between the different states, each surrendering minor rights for the mutual benefit of the whole and in order to obtain others of greater importance, cannot much longer resist the storms of frenzy and fanaticism, which have thus far threatened in vain the existence of this Union, and which appear to be gathering more dark and threatening every day.
The founders of this Union pledged their sacred words and honor to observe these compromises, to execute and submit to the laws for its administration and nobly did they maintain their pledges. But their successors, unmindful of the weighty trust impose upon them have proven recreant to every filial duty and a disgrace to the names of their ancestors by violating

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their sacred honor and destroying the noblest of their inheritances, this Union. The public Press, formerly the great palladium of of our rights, has degenerated into a mere tool of designing politicians and unprincipled demagogues, by which they weild a tyranny more despotic and cruel than that of Dyonisius or Nero, for they could only destroy the lives of their victims, but the Press not only murders the man, but also his character and reputation. All other tyrants are dreaded and hated by their victims but the public press is idolized and courted by its. The right of suffrage is no longer preserved inviolate, in proof of which of which I need only refer you to the bloodstained streets of Baltimore, Louisville, and New Orleans — to the thousand of vigilance committees sprining

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in every city and which are banishing men for their political opinions. However essential the measures to the public prosperity. However sacred the principles involved, they are to be decided not by their utility to the public wellfare but by party principles not by the benefit they will confer on the whole Union but by geographical lines and sectional divisions. A people, who incurred the dangers and experienced the inconveniences of a civil war before they would pay a small tax of a few pennies to their mother, will not be deprived of their rights by an ungrateful brother.
Pure and unsullied devotion to liberty ardent attachment to our Country have long since yielded to party strifes and sectional divisions.

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When the inhabitants of a coun[try] have become so corrupt in morals, that the solemn promises and plighted faith of men are broken, when political truth is extinguished and the solemn engagements of men are merely made as stepping stones to power and as instruments of electioneering — that country cannot stand long – but is destined soon to perish, either by being conquered by a foreign country or destroyed by civil commotions.
Already are the sections of the Union arrayed against each other and 1860 will soon decide her short lived existence.