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[285]

To overthrow every Southern Commonwealth.

That union of the purse and the sword which was the theme of such impassioned declamation at the North, when the object was to divide the South against Andrew Jackson, was welcomed with avidity, when the object was not the protection of a bank, but only the overthrow of every Commonwealth of the South. It was elsewhere than in Virginia that the value of the Union had heretofore been computed.

It was with the secession of New England that Hamilton threatened Jefferson, unless the debts of the States were assumed by the general government. The purchase and admission of Louisiana were held to justify the secession of New England, and for the very reason that the admission of any new State into the Union altered the Federal compact to which the Commonwealths of New England had acceded, by altering their relative weight therein. The embargo, the non-intercourse act, and the hostilities with Great Britain were deemed justifiable grounds for a dissolution of the Union; and the ‘Hartford Nation,’ which assembled in Congress to draw the necessary papers, was only restrained by that glory of New Orleans, which was a victory over New England quite as much as over Old England. The annexation of Texas was considered a ground for separation of the States, and for reasons which were once more based on the federative character of the Union, and the alteration of the relative importance of its members. On the 1st of February, 1850, Mr. Hale offered in the Senate a petition and resolutions asking that body to devise ‘without delay some plan for the immediate, peaceful dissolution of the American Union.’ And Chase and Seward voted for its reception. It was New England who taught us the memorable words, ‘amicably if we can violently if we must.’1 [286]

And what were the invasions which she could not stand without the threat and preparation of disunion? The measures which doubled the continent of free government and gave the Mississippi to us to be our inland sea and Mediterranean of commerce. And Virginia! When for the first time did she recoil with just and natural horror from the fate which was prepared for her? Not until she had no other alternative than to make good her right to free government out of the Union, or to submit to ‘freedom and a dagger’ in it. Like the desert-bird who ‘unlocks her own breast’ to satisfy her offspring, Virginia had partitioned and repartioned her own territory to feed the Union—and this was her reward! That enemies and accusers who had counted so critically the profit of the Union, who at every step of its progress had weighed so nicely its commercial value, who had shouted so loudly that unless it was a Union which was profitable, it was no Union for them; that they who had been preaching and practicing disunion ever since there had been a Union; that they should have been the executioners of the State which had served it best and loved it most, was the curious revenge of time.

1 ‘There is a great rule of human conduct which he who honestly observes cannot err widely from the path of his sought duty. It is to be very scrupulous concerning the principles you select as the test of your rights and obligations; to be very faithful in noticing the result of their application; to be very fearless in tracing and exposing their immediate effects and distant consequences. Under the sanction of this rule of conduct I am compelled to declare it as my deliberate opinion that if this bill passes, the bonds of this Union are virtually dissolved; that the States which compose it are free from their moral obligations, and that as it will be the right of all, so it will be the duty of some to prepare definitely for a separation—amicably if they can, violently if they must. * * * Have the three branches of this government a right at will to weaken and outweigh the influence respectively secured to each State in this compact by introducing at pleasure new partners, situate beyond the old limits of the United States? * * * The proportion of the political weight of each sovereign State constituting this Union depends upon the number of States which have a voice under the compact.’—Speech of Josiah Quincy, January 11, 1811, on the Bill for the Admission of Louisiana.

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