All the slave States except four are arrayed in hostility to the General Government, and are demanding that the confederation which they have formed shall be recognized as a separate sovereign nation. The process by which they have attempted to form themselves into a distinct nation has been, for each State by itself to declare all connection with the General Government terminated, and then unite in forming a confederation among themselves. Our present purpose does not require us to discuss the propriety of the acts of these States, yet it may be proper for us to say, that they find no warrant in any known principle of our Government, and no justification in the facts existing when they seceded. While these States claim that their sovereignty as a nation shall be recognized, and have collected armies to make good their claim, the Government of the United States insists that the ordinances of secession are utterly void, and that the Constitution and laws of the United States are still in force within the seceded States, just as they are within any of the other States, and to maintain this position armies are rapidly gathering on the borders of the seceded States. If there could be any intervention by which the shedding of blood and the desolation of civil war could be avoided, the practical good sense of the American people might discover some mode of adjusting the difficulties which would be alike honorable and beneficial to both the contending parties. But while one side demands the recognition of its sovereignty, and the other insists that such a recognition is a constitutional impossibility; it is manifest that there can be no arbiter but the sword, unless the people themselves, acting upon and through their representatives, State and national, shall interpose, arrest the strife, and enforce a settlement without bloodshed. If any terms or adjustment would be satisfactory to both parties, which would fall short of the recognition of the sovereignty of the seceded States, and still satisfy them, and short of the obedience of the seceded States to the Constitution and laws of the United States, and still satisfy the people of the United States, it is the duty of each party to notify the other of such terms as would be satisfactory, so that an attempt at adjustment might be made. But we repeat, if the recognition of the sovereignty of the seceded States continue a sine qua non, and if the Government continue to disclaim the constitutional power to make such recognition, there is no peaceful solution of the difficulty possible, other than such as the people themselves may, by their action, produce. It is proper for us to say that in our opinion the Constitution delegates to no one department of the Government, nor to all of them combined, the power to destroy the Government itself, as would be done by the division of the country into separate confederacies, and that the obligation exists to maintain the Constitution of the United States, and to preserve the Union unimpaired. It has been suggested, in quarters entitled to the highest respect, that the independence of the States which have seceded might be acknowledged by a National Convention, adopting an amendment to the Constitution for that purpose, as such an amendment would have the support and acquiescence of the seceded States. But we leave that for the decision of the people and their representatives, when they shall feel the imperative necessity of such a settlement. We now turn to the consideration of what ought to be done for the purpose of quieting apprehension within the few slave States which still adhere to the Union established by their fathers. We ask no concession of new or additional rights. We do not fear any immediate encroachment upon our rights as slave States. The amendment to the Constitution proposed by the last Congress gives assurance that at present there is no danger that our rights will be assailed. But we are few in number, and the preponderance of the free States is continually increasing. The security to our rights now afforded by the sense of justice in the minds of the free States may be lost by a change of popular feeling in the future. One great object in constitutions is to protect the rights of minorities. In the Constitution there are general grants of power to the Congress of the United States, which might be perverted to our injury, contrary to the spirit of the instrument, and still the letter of the grant be claimed to authorize the injurious legislation. Such are the power “to regulate commerce between the States,” and the power of “exclusive legislation over the District of Columbia,” and over “forts, dock-yards, and arsenals in the several States.” It would not now be claimed by Congress that these grants authorized an interference in the sale of slaves between the people of different States, nor would it be claimed that they authorized the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, while Maryland and Virginia remained slave States, nor the like abolition in forts and other places within slave States. But what will be claimed in the future we cannot know. So also, in relation to the territories belonging to the United States. While we are aware that all the territories, then unorganized, were organized by acts of the last Congress which contain no prohibition of slavery, and while we know that this was the action of a Congress in which the free States had the control at the time the acts were passed, still these are but acts of Congress, subject to repeal or alteration as public feeling may change under temporary excitement. It is but just that the rights of the slave States, now in a small minority of the whole States, should be guarded in the particulars
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