General Johnson’s Address.
Ladies of the Confederate Memorial Literary Society, Friends and Fellow Confederates, Men and Women:
To-day commemorates the birthday of the first rebel president, and the thirty-fifth anniversary of the inauguration of the last. It commemorates an epoch in the grandest struggle for liberty and right that has ever been made by man. It celebrates the baptism of a new nation, born thirty-five years ago to-day.
And this commemoration is in the capital city of the Old Dominion and of the Confederacy. More than a generation after the utter failure of the attempt, it is by the statesmen of Virginia, by her public authorities, by the government of the city of Richmond, who honor themselves in honoring this occasion, and by the free sentiment of this great and noble people.
There is nothing like it in history. No Greek archon, no Roman consul, was ever welcomed with a triumph after a defeat. Nowhere, at no time, has a defeated side ever been so honored, or the unsuccessful so apotheosized.
Success is worshipped, failure is forgotten. That is the universal experience and the unvarying law of nature. Therefore, it would seem that the fall of the Confederacy was, in some sense, a success and a triumph, for it cannot be that universal law has been set aside for this sole exception, the glorification of the Lost Confederacy, its heroines and its heroes. I shall endeavor to make clear in what respects there was success and triumph. I believe our first and most sacred duty is to our holy dead, to ourselves, and to our posterity. It is our highest obligation to satisfy the world of the righteousness of our cause and the sound judgment with which we defended it. And we injure ourselves, we impair the morale of our side, by incessant protestations of loyalty to the victor, and continual assertions of respects for his motives, of forgiveness for his conduct, and of belief in the nobility of his faith. There never can be two rights, nor two wrongs—one side must be right, and therefore, the other is, of course, wrong. This is so of every question of morals and of conduct, and it must be pre-eminently so of a question which divided millions of people, and which cost a million of lives.
The world is surely coming to the conclusion that the cause of the Confederacy was right. Every lover of constitutional liberty, liberty controlled by law, all over the world begins to understand that the war was not waged by the South in defense of slavery, but was a war to protect liberty won and bequeathed by free ancestors.
They now know that the fundamental basic principle of the Revolution of 1775, upon which the governments of the States united were all founded—Massachusetts and Virginia, Rhode Island and North Carolina—was that “all government right rests upon the consent of the government,” and that they, therefore, at all times must have the right to change and alter their form of government whenever changed circumstances require changed laws.
They now know that the English settlements in America were made in separate communities, at different times, by different societies; that they grew and prospered until an attempt was made to deprive them of an infinently small portion of their property without their consent. The whole tea tax would not have produced £1,500—less than $7,500. That they resisted this attack on their rights as distinct colonies; that as separate States they made treaties with France and the continental powers in 1778; that their independence as separate States, by name, was acknowledged by Great Britain in 1783; that Maryland fought through that whole war until 1781 as an independent and separate state, and never joined the confederation until the last named year; that North Carolina and Rhode Island refused to enter the Union created by the Constitution of 1789, after the dissolution of the confederation, and for two years remained as independent of the States united, and of each other, as France and England are to-day; and, therefore, they know that these independent States, when they entered into the compact of the Constitution of 1789, never did (for a State never can, by the very nature of its being, commit suicide,) consent and agree to give up for ever the right of self-government, and of the people of a State to make a government to suit themselves.