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Doc. 130. speech of Reverdy Johnson, at a mass meeting of the Union citizens of Baltimore Co., at Calverton, Md., Nov. 4.

Fellow-citizens of Baltimore County:--My failure to appear before you until the closing period of the canvass, I am sure, you will not attribute to any indifference to the momentous questions which it involves, or to a want of grateful sensibility for the honor of the nomination which your Union Convention, on the 12th of September, conferred upon me. Whilst these questions have almost engrossed my thoughts from their first appearance, that nomination advised me that those by whom it was made, and representing in that particular, as I supposed, your opinion, believed that I might be able to serve our State in her present exigency, and, by doing so constitutionally and loyally, assist the Government of the whole in its sworn duty to uphold its rightful authority by suppressing, through the use of all its delegated powers, the cruel, unprovoked rebellion which is aiming its destruction.

But the call, so wholly unexpected, found me under professional obligations which I could not, without a violation of honor, abandon, and which I found myself unable to postpone. But my heart has been with you and my associate candidates in all your united efforts, and, to [273] some extent, though not upon the immediate theatre of the struggle, I have done what I could to assist in bringing it to a successful issue. Hoping that this explanation will be satisfactory, I proceed briefly to lay before you, in plain and unambitious language, some thoughts suited, as I think, to the occasion.

I have characterized the questions before us as momentous. Are they not? They affect the very life of our institutions. They threaten with extinction, perpetual extinction, all the elements of our social and political prosperity. They strike at the peace and happiness which was ours, and to an extent “beyond any thing that the history of the world could parallel.” Whence the madness and the crime of their agitation? How happens it that at the very moment when, of all that had passed since the Constitution was adopted by our fathers, “in order to form a more perfect Union,” the entire country was happier, richer, more powerful, in fact and in the world's esteem, than ever before, and when individual rights and all the reserved rights of the States were never more faithfully observed, and protected, and secured; how happened it, I say, that cursed rebellion then lifted its unholy hands, and has succeeded in involving us in frightful civil war, converting brothers into enemies, peaceful fields, but recently filled only with the cheerful sounds of contented and remunerative industry, into fields of blood and agony; homes, the abode of happiness and the schools of innocence and kindness, into scenes of harrowing suffering, and in many instances, it is feared, of almost demoniac passion. That reason, enlightened reason, pure love of country, could not have produced the change, every unprejudiced, intelligent, and patriotic mind will at once concede. What, then, is the cause? The failure to elect a President selected by a few men. The failure to elect one whom the people they have succeeded in deluding to their ruin they knew would esteem to be national, and which failure, for that very reason, they plotted to accomplish, satisfied that its success would be fatal to their long-meditated treason. The cause, then, is simply that a President was elected other than their own nominee — the nominee whose recent final step into the ranks of the conspirators, an outcast from the State of his birth, a State that had heaped her honors upon him without stint, proving himself a traitor to her as well as to the Union, and a fit instrument, in the hands of his co-conspirators, to assist in the nation's destruction.

Before a single measure was announced indicating the policy or the purpose of the President elect--before a single act was done by any branch of the Government touching any real or alleged Southern right; without consulting even their own people, but with “malice aforethought” for many years polluting their bosoms, they at once threw aside the mask which had so long concealed their deformity, and without shame, in the face of day, and many — most of them — enjoying at the moment, as they had done for years, the honors which the Union had given them, cast aside the allegiance which, over and over again, they had sworn to their God to observe, and avowed themselves, even with a boast, rebels and traitors. They had, too, as far as they could, guarded against the frustration of their unrivalled wickedness. A Secretary of War became one of them. By some of the party, as I know, he had been from the beginning of his official career, regarded with utter detestation. His gross and multiplied corruptions were the constant themes of their indignant denunciation. Nor was this expressed in a corner. His name was considered by them as the very synonyme of official baseness, and they made no secret of it. The moment, however, the time approached, when, to divulge their own dishonor, they called him into their counsels. They knew that treason in him, from his antecedents, could be relied upon. They knew that official faith, though secured by official oath, with him would be no restraint. They knew that with him, to deceive the President, who had appointed and weakly confided in him, would probably rather be a delight than an objection. Their anticipations were not disappointed. They were seen under the darkness of night, for nights and nights together, wending their way to his residence — which before, they would have esteemed it disgrace to enter — and there they, with him, concocted the acts of official baseness which have given undying infamy to his name. The army was dispersed; the arms and ammunition of the Government placed beyond its reach; officers put in command with treachery promised in advance. The blow was struck, and the traitors stood confessed, and boasted their treason, seeking no other justification than a notion of State sovereignty paramount to that of the General Government, not only absurd in principle and impracticable in practice, but in direct conflict with the very purpose and express words of the Constitution, which declare that the “Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land,” that is, of the whole land, whether under Territorial or State Government.

Never, in human annals, did prejudice or ignorance before believe so preposterous a doctrine; and yet it is on this, and on this alone, that secession asserts its legality. The history of the Constitution repudiates it; the grounds on which its adoption by the people was resisted reject it; the fears anticipated from its operation repel it; the instrument itself, in clear terms, denounces it; and its administration, by every department of the Government, from the days of Washington to the present hour, scouts it. If, as is possible, there are men of capacity and intelligence who sincerely believe in it, the remark of Beaumarchais on the Girondists is [274] even more applicable to them: “My God! What idiots these men of talent are.” But they have brought the minds of thousands to credit the heresy. At war with reason, and fatal to any Union of States that may be formed — sure in the end, and at no distant period, to work its destruction, they have made it a part of their rebellious Constitution. This is done but the better to accomplish the delusion. The very incorporation of the principle demonstrates that they know it is not to be found in the Constitution which they are, under its pretence, seeking to overthrow. Assuming this heresy as a right, they go a step further, and contend that whether right or not, there is no rightful power in the Government to prevent it. They maintain that once acted upon, the people of the States seceded cannot be forced back into their allegiance, or suffered if willing, if their State forbids it, to return to it, because the State stands between them and their original duty, and there is no authority to coerce a State. This asserted consequence of secession is, if possible, even more absurd than its twin folly; and yet respectable gentlemen in our own State are its victims. A committee of our now defunct Legislature, at a session called for a definite purpose — not only not carried out, but persistently denied, the consulting the will of the people of the State, on the very question of their disputed allegiance — in a report, ingeniously prepared, culling from the debates of the Convention which prepared the Constitution extracts of speeches by Hamilton, Madison, and others, without giving the context, or stating fairly and fully the very questions being discussed, sought to maintain the groundless, absurd theory. And, more recently, three respectable Peace gentlemen of Harford County have given it the sanction of their names. When the will is father to the thought, nothing is easier than to find reasons to uphold it. In every branch of science and of literature, general or political, this has been over and over again illustrated. The absurdity is first adopted from choice, without reflection, and the mind is at work at once to maintain it. Experience is rejected, the teachings of the wise are forgotten or disregarded, the very nature of things is repudiated, and the mind of the deluded goes everywhere but where it should, to see the true character of its adopted folly. Spirit-rapping, Millerism, fanaticism in all its numerous shapes, are not more the subjects of self-delusion and persistent ignorance, honestly entertained, than the belief in the doctrine of State secession and individual impunity for allegiance violated and treason perpetrated through the protection of State power.

The debates relied upon for the heresy, are utterly misunderstood. It was proposed to insert in the Constitution an express power to coerce a State. This was opposed by the great statesmen referred to, and rejected; but why? For reasons, as given by themselves, in direct conflict with the dogma. It was said, and with truth, that such a power, recognizing as it would a State as a party to such a conflict, would be to place her in the attitude of a belligerent to the United States, and justify other nations in so considering and treating her. The chief defect of the Articles of Confederation, which the Constitution was to supersede, was that the States and the Confederation, in the event of conflict, would hold that relation toward each other. This very relation was the parent of all the ills the country had suffered, and it was the often repeated purpose of the leading members of the Convention effectually to obviate and guard against it in the future. They objected, therefore, to insert a provision which might be construed to continue the very weakness to which the Confederation was, by experience, found liable. They sought, with this end, to pass by, as thoroughly as they could, the States, in their corporate capacity, and directed the powers of the Government to the individual citizen. The power proposed to be given to use force against a State to compel individual duty, was objected to by Mr. Madison, on the ground that “a union of the States containing such an ingredient, seemed to provide for its own destruction.” He preferred the use of force upon the people “individually,” and not “collectively,” find expressed the hope that a system to that effect would be framed. Mr. Hamilton was of the same opinion, and the result was the adoption of a system that made each citizen a citizen of the United States, bound to it, as to all their constitutional powers, by a direct and paramount allegiance, and subject, by reason of it, to individual punishment for its violation. Over all individually, as well as over the States collectively, in all matters of duty which the Constitution imposed on the people and the States as such, the Constitution, and legislation and treaties under it, were made supreme. With what astonishment would those great men have received even an intimation (which no man, however, was weak enough to suggest) that the provisions imposing as a duty individual obedience, and giving the Government a judiciary, and an army and a navy to enforce it, and the power to “call forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions,” would all be but idle and fruitless powers, as they could all be frustrated by means of State secession and State power? That at last the demonstrated vice of the Confederation would be found to belong to the new Government, and courts, militia, armies, navies, denouncement of treason, all would be set at naught by virtue of inherent State sovereignty, which the people of the States could not, though they said they would and must, for their own safety and welfare, part with. Had such a monstrous absurdity been breathed in that assembly of truly great and patriotic men, it would have been received with universal derision, and the author written down insane.

And yet, in these degenerate days, it is invoked and solemnly maintained as a shield and [275] protection for allegiance violated and treason perpetrated. The man is guilty; the offence, clearly defined by the Constitution, is as clearly perpetrated, and should be punished. Powers ample for the purpose are vested in the Government, the nation's safety demands their execution, the respect of the world can only be retained by their prompt and effectual exercise; but no, these are all to be sacrificed, the Government is to fall by reason of inherent incurable debility, the States are to be separated and consigned to feebleness, even unknown to the Confederation, by this ridiculous, wholly ridiculous dogma, that States cannot be coerced. As well might the citizen who violates his country's laws plead immunity from punishment under the sanction of a foreign Power. The citizen is to claim exemption because others have offended with him. What is crime, conceded crime, in one or a few, ceases to be crime if many are committing it. It even then is supposed to rise to the dignity of a virtue. What folly! What absolute folly! Washington did not so hold when he raised and marched, leading it himself, an army to subdue and punish thousands in Pennsylvania in rebellion. Jackson did not so hold when he resolved to prostrate nullification by military power, though sought to be shielded by State authority. Congress did not so hold when it armed him with the whole force of the nation to effect that, his clear duty and patriotic purpose.

But of this enough; the doctrine is so obviously untenable that patriotism instinctively rejects it. As no argument can even plausibly maintain it, no argument is required to refute it. Its absurdity is as transparent as light. But it is being carried out, and this brings me to consider what are our duty and our interest.

As to duty, that is clear from what I have already told you. We owe allegiance to the Government of the Union, and its history to the breaking out of the present foul rebellion, the memory of the men who gave it to us, the untold blessings it has conferred upon us, the support it has given to the cause of constitutional freedom everywhere, the gratitude we owe to Washington, whom Providence, it has been said, left “childless, that his country might call him father,” will all unite in making that allegiance a pleasure as well as a duty. To be false, to such a Government, to palter even with the treason that seeks its downfall, to associate with the wicked men or the madmen who are in arms against it, would be as vile a dishonor and as base a crime as fallen man ever perpetrated.

Peace, in such a crisis — the cry of our opponents — how is it to be attained? How, upon their plan, but by a gross violation of our clearest obligations — a total disregard of an allegiance to which we are bound, not only by the Constitution, but by the pledge our ancestors gave for us? The force the Government is raising is not, as is falsely alleged by the conspirators, to subjugate States or citizens. It is but to vindicate the Constitution and the laws, and maintain the existence of the Government. It is but to suppress the “insurrection,” force the citizen to return to his duty, and restore him to the unequalled benefits of the Union. And when this is done, as done it will be if there is justice in Heaven, the authors of the present calamity will be consigned to the execrations of the civilized world, and punished, perhaps, if that is possible, more severely by the people whom, by arts and subterfuges, they have so deluded and deceived.

In the mean time our path is clear. It is to remain faithful to duty and to honor; to avoid, as we would pestilence or famine, all communion with treason; to stand by, with unfaltering attachment, the Union Washington especially devised for us, and invoked us, in his dying, patriotic legacy, “indignantly to frown upon the first dawning of any attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest ;” “to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bonds;” and to remember always that “it is a main pillar in the edifice of (out) real independence — the support of (our) tranquillity at home, (our) peace abroad, of (our) safety, of that very liberty which (we) so highly prize.” Forbid it, Heaven! that Marylanders shall ever forget these teachings! Save us, in mercy, from the crime he so urged us to avoid and denounce. Let us not be false to the filial obligations we owe him, the Father of our Freedom, achieved for us through seven years of struggle and peril; but, on the contrary, clinging around the altar of the Union, where he and his great associates ever worshipped, “pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,” to maintain it inviolate to the last.

Patriotism now is arousing the men of the loyal States to its rescue. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, are leaving the comforts of home, the employments of peaceful life, and nerving themselves to the task. The Government is directing itself to the same end. Until now they have had the counsels of a veteran soldier, whose life has been one scene of patriotic honor; whose achievements in the field have given renown to his country, and won for himself an ever-enduring fame; and whose counsels in many an exigency have rescued the nation from peril, whilst saving untouched its honor. Winfield Scott, bearing upon his body wounds received in the national service, and which, with age, unfit him, as he for himself has decided, has retired from the command of the army. Great as have been the deeds of his prior life, none is more calculated to secure him his country's gratitude and the world's esteem than the devotion with which he, though pressed down by infirmities that made him a daily sufferer, has stood, in the present exigency, as long as he physically could, true to active, patriotic duty. What a shining and crushing contrast to the [276] faithless soldiers (officers, not men; they have all of them been true) who, false to obligations and honor, are now warring with the very Government that gave them a name, and seeking to degrade the almost sacred standard which they were educated to defend, and bound by every motive of gratitude and by oft-repeated pledges to Heaven to defend to the last! Whilst Winfield Scott's memory will ever live, honored and revered by the good and the great of the world, every true soldier will try, for the sake of his profession, to forget that such men had belonged to it.

Scott is gone, but the army has still a chief. Though new to fame, McClellan's repeated and rapid victories in Western Virginia, that so thrilled with joy every patriotic heart, and his untiring zeal, scientific attainments, and complete organization of his vast army, are guarantees on which the country may and will rely that the honor of the nation and the fame of the army are in safe hands. With such a leader, and such a cause, who can doubt the ultimate result? Sooner or later, we shall see “the stars to sparkle from the sphere from which they have shot.” We shall see treason crushed and the Union restored; and that done, we may be confident “against the world in arms.” That done--

Foreign foe or false beguiling
     Shall our Union ne'er divide;
Hand in hand while peace is smiling,
     And in battle side by side.

In this instance, too, as it ever is, interest is the ally of duty. The firmness and patriotism of our Governor, encouraged and supported by the loyalty of the people, have saved us from the direst calamities of the strife. Our fields are untrodden by the traitorous foe: no horrid clash of arms has startled our homes with dismay; no desolation is within our limits; no armed soldier is here but to protect and defend the loyal. Peace is our condition, and none of our people are subject to the hazards of the contest but those who are patriotically giving themselves to their country's service for their country's defence. What a contrast to the sad fate of our misguided sister, Virginia! Through folly and crime, the war which South Carolina traitorously initiated she has brought almost exclusively within her borders, and sad, afflictingly sad, is the result — private grief and misery, individual poverty, and State bankruptcy, and the loss of the renown won for her by her former generation of good and great men.

Let her example strengthen us in the resolve to remain true to patriotic obligation. Let it teach us how dear to us should be the fame of our good and great of the same generation, and how imperative the demands, alike of interest and duty, to preserve the renown they achieved and left us untarnished by our dishonor.

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