When the crises of secession came in early 1861, Green’s mind was clear and his duty obvious. He left his job while the Supreme Court was in session in Tyler to travel home to Austin. The eloquent, well-read, and well-informed Green had written his father back in Tennessee a clear and pointed letter outlining his opinion of those turbulent days. He had read the papers and listened to the informed politicians of his time. He was certain that the North desired nothing less than a humbled South and a destruction of slavery. “I think nothing now but the getting upon our knees and humbly imploring their forgiveness, and submitting unconditionally . . . would save us from civil war,” he had written. “I have been looking for this state of things ever since I began reading the newspapers of the country. I did think and hope it would not come in my day and time.”
But the war would come in his time, and Green blamed Washington. “I did not doubt the teachings of Seward, Chase, and Lincoln [that the] ‘irrepressible conflict’ was a reality and must culminate sooner or later—not that there was any necessity for it, or good reason in it.” He believed beyond doubt that northerners, once they had decided on the course of destruction, could not be turned. “I believe that fanaticism, whenever it got a foothold, would go on operating until it occupied the minds of all the people subject to it, and that all the reason and arguments in the world would be but as chaff before a high wind when coming in contact with it.”
Green believed like many fellow southerners that the Federal government had turned leviathan and gobbled the Constitution. The appetite of a new generation of northern politicians threatened to consume any vestige of state sovereignty as they sought to impose a national order on a country composed of regional—and state—peculiarities. Many in the South viewed the Northerners as revolutionary, intent on eliminating the limits of Federal power so that it might extend into the daily lives of citizens in the various states. This homogenizing influence, these southerners held, ran counter to the arguments carried forward from Independence Hall in 1787 and undid the cause for which the Patriots of old, their grandfathers’ generation, had fought. “The black Republican Party,” trumpeted the New Orleans Delta in early November 1860, “is, in fact, essentially a revolutionary party.”
Northerners did not shy away from the label. Horace White of the Chicago Tribune wrote Illinois Senator Lyman Trumball, declaring “we live in Revolutionary times and I say God bless the revolution.” Bostonian Charles Francis Adams, grandson of President John Adams and son of President John Quincy Adams, confided in his diary. “The great revolution has actually taken place,” he penned. “The country has once and for all thrown off the domination of Slaveholders.”
Ulysses S. Grant, later General in Chief of the Armies of the United States and president believed that the times had simply changed, and southerners had not kept up. “The cause of the Great War of the Rebellion against the United States will have to be attributed to slavery,” he wrote. “Slavery . . . required unusual guarantees for its security wherever it existed.” The United States had prospered since its colonial origins and had outgrown the institution. “In a country like ours where the larger portion of it was free territory inhabited by an intelligent and well-to-do population, the people would naturally have little sympathy with demands upon them for its protection.” The South, Grant argued, had to maintain control of the government in order to maintain slavery. “They saw their power waning, and this led them to encroach upon the prerogatives and independence of the Northern states. This was degradation,” Grant continued, “which the North would not permit.”
Green argued likewise, but in reverse. He believed that Southerners would be dominated by nefarious countrymen in the North. He felt obligated to defend the old order. “The battle for the right to govern ourselves and control our own institutions had to be fought with the fanatics of the north at some time, and I expect it had as well be by us as our children,” he wrote. “We are no doubt better prepared for the fight than our children would have been and will bring more nerve to the conflict that they would as the injuries received from the nasal twanged, self righteous, witch killing fanatics are more recent and fresh with us.” A war to protect the order declared four score and five year before loomed as the ultima ratio—the last resort.