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[47] Mass., praying for a peaceable dissolution of the Union. It was the first of the kind that had ever reached Congress, and, curiously enough, it did not proceed from professed abolitionists: the first signer was a Locofoco1 (alias Democrat) of high standing. Nor were the motives alleged ostensibly anti-slavery, but economic: there were, it affirmed, no reciprocal advantages in the Union; the revenues of one section were drained ‘to sustain the views and course of another section, without any adequate return.’ Moreover, Mr. Adams moved the reference of the petition to a committee with instructions to report adversely. What followed, therefore, would have been in the highest degree extraordinary but for the Southern consciousness that a Northern proposal of disunion was deadly to slavery.

Wise of Virginia, with a Border State precipitancy,2 hotly declared that the person who presented such a petition ought to be censured, and his colleague Gilmer lost3 no time in making a motion to that effect. This was superseded on the following day by resolutions concocted4 in caucus, and presented in the House by Marshall of5 Kentucky–again a Border State taking the lead. The preamble is a landmark in the history of Southern opinion of the sacredness of the Union:

‘Whereas, The Federal Constitution is a permanent form of6 Government, and of perpetual obligation until altered or modified in the modes pointed out by that instrument, and the members of this House, deriving their political character and powers from the same, are sworn to support it, and the dissolution of the Union necessarily implies the destruction of that instrument, the overthrow of the American Republic, and the extinction of our national existence. A proposition, therefore, to the Representatives of the people to dissolve the organic law framed by their constituents, and to support which they are commanded by those constituents to be sworn, before they can enter upon the execution of the political powers created by it and intrusted to them, is a high breach of privilege, a contempt offered to this House, a direct proposition to the Legislature and each member of it to commit perjury, and involves ’

1 Lib. 12.34.

2 Henry A. Wise.

3 Thos. W. Gilmer.

4 Lib. 12.18, 21, 25.

5 Thos. F. Marshall.

6 Lib. 12.18.

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