Speech of U. S. Senator Benjamin on the Crisis.
, (Opp.,) of La.
, rose to address the Senate.
He said he had supposed that, are this, he would have had official information of the position of affairs in South Carolina
, but in the absence of it he should assume that he had such information.
The South, he said, had repeatedly warned the North
that they were driving them to a point that would result in a separation, and for this they had only been sneered at and maligned.
He (Mr. Benjamin
) wished to speak in no spirit of recrimination, but to perform his duty.
He would call attention to the speech he made four yours ago, predicting this result.
here quoted from the speech he made in 1856, and in which he said the time would come when the South
would throw the sword into the scale with all the rights of the South
, because he did not believe there could be peaceable secession.
He said that the words he had then uttered had proved to be true to- day. He would to God that the fears of civil war then expressed would prove only fears, but from what he had heard, it almost seemed us if the other side of the chamber desired to bring about a civil war. South Carolina
had declared herself separated from the Union
, while other States stand ready to support her, or else to put her down.
That is the real issue, and there is no use to disguise it.
We are not permitted to ignore the fact that the determination to secede is not confined to South Carolina
alone, for next week Mississippi
, and Florida
, will separate from the Union
; a week after Georgia
will follow them; a little latter Louisiana
will secede, and soon after her Arkansas
Now, then, shall we recognize South Carolina
as a free and independent State, or shall we coerce by force?
He argued that the people of South Carolina
had a right to declare themselves free; it was an inherent, inalienable right.--South Carolina
had, by the voice of her people, met in convention, in 1860, and repealed the ordinance made by her people when they met in convention in 1788. Mr. Benjamin
here quoted from a speech of Daniel Webster's, in the Rhode Island
case, to show that a convention of the people duly assembled had proper authority.
He (Mr. Webster
) had said that a compact was not binding on one party unless the other parties to it lived up to it, and that a compact broken by one could be broken by all. Mr. Benjamin
here quoted from Mr. Madison
to sustain his position.
He (Mr. Benjamin
) said that no one could find any article in the Constitution
requiring force to be used to coerce a State.--He referred to the old Confederation, and said that line States seceded from it for the express reason that the compact between them was not kept, and finally all the States seceded but Rhode Island
and North Carolina
, leaving them as foreign States.
He claimed this as a precedent in the formation of the present Constitution to show the right of a State to secede.
Who was to be the judge if a compact was broken?
If a compact was broken in a pecuniary matter, the Constitution
provided a way to settle the matter; but if it was broken politically, the Constitution
provided no way.--He read from the debates of the Convention
which formed the Constitution
to show that the members of that Convention refused to make the Senate the judge of, or give the President
the power to veto, the action of a State; that they refused to give Congress the power to negative State legislation, and that they specially refused to give any power to coerce States.
Yet when the State
conventions came to ratify the Constitution
, complaints were made that the States were not sufficiently secure.
It must be admitted that certain political rights are guaranteed the States, but when these rights are denied, where is the remedy?
Suppose that South Carolina
should send two Senators
here, and the majority should refuse to receive but one, what power can compel that majority to repair the wrong?
Suppose that South Carolina
should then withdraw from the Union
, who could say it was a violation of the Constitution
Suppose, again, that a wrong is perpetrated which does not appear quite clear to the North
, but does appear clear to South Carolina
--suppose she is denied access to the Territories
, is she without any remedy under the Constitution
If there is none, then she must be the judge of the wrong and mode of redress.
He read an extract from an address delivered by John Quincy Adams
in New York, in 1838, in which he said nations themselves must be the able judge whether compacts are broken, and also saying "that when all fraternal feeling was gone between the States, then it was time to separate in peace and return to their original state." He (Mr. Benjamin
) said that a sectional President
had been elected, who could, with the aid of a sectional Senate, grant all the benefits to and appoint from one section all the officers in the gift of the government, and thus ruin the South
Suppose that South Carolina
is in error in believing that wrong has been done her, still that does not alter the issue whether we shall permit her to withdraw or force her back.
In reply to the Senator
,) he (Mr. Benjamin
) claimed that a citizen was bound to obey his State government.
The Republican Senators say that they will not coerce a State, but enforce the laws against individuals.
But how can they punish an individual in a State for treason?
Where are they to find the judge and jury to do so, when all the citizens in the State
think that he has done right?
He (Mr. Benjamin
) said they could not blockade a port without declaring war; they could not embargo one port without closing the other.
He claimed that neither Congress nor the President
had power to go into a State with a military force without the intervention of the civil power.
Some civil process must precede the military force.
He argued that they could not collect the revenue by force.
Such threats were only a pretext to cover up the real question, which was no other than this: Shall we acknowledge the independence of a seceding State, or reduce her to subjection by war?--Mr. Benjamin
here read from "Vattel" to show that the hypocritical keeping of compacts were of no avail, and referred to the case of Rhadamiscus, who promised not to use steel against a captive, yet smothered him. And you. Senators
of the Republican party, you assert, and your people assert, that, under a just and fair interpretation of the Federal Constitution
, it is right to deny that our slaves, which, directly or indirectly, involve a value of $4,000,000,000, are property at all, entitled to protection in the Territories
under and by the government.
You assert that by a fair interpretation of that instrument, it is to encourage by all possible means the robbery of this property, and to legislate so as to render its recovery as dangerous and difficult as possible.
You say that it is right and proper, under the Constitution
, to prevent our mere transit across a sister State to embark with our property on a lawful voyage, without being openly despoiled of it. You assert that it is right and proper to hold us up to the ban of mankind, in speeches and writings, as thieves, robbers, villains and criminals of the blackest dye, because we continue to own property which we owned at the time we all signed the compact.
You say it is right that we should be disposed to spend our treasure in the purchase and our blood in the conquest of a foreign territory, and yet have no right to enter it for settlement, without leaving behind our most valuable property, under penalty of its confiscation.
Your fathers interpreted this instrument to mean safety and peace to all, and you say it is eminently in accordance with the surety that our welfare and peace is to be preserved that our sister States should combine to prevent our growth and development, and surround us with a cordon of hostile communities, for the express and avowed purpose of accumulating, in dense masses, and within restricted limits, a population which you believe to be dangerous, and thereby forcing us to sacrifice a property nearly sufficient in value to pay the public debt of every nation in Europe
This construction of the instrument which was to preserve our security and promote our welfare, and which we only signed on your assurance that such was its object, you tell us now is a fair construction.
You don't propose to enter our States, you say, to kill and destroy our institutions by force.
Oh, no.--You imitate the faith of Rhadamiscus, and you propose simply to inclose us in an embrace that will suffocate us. You don't propose to fell the tree, you promised not to. You merely propose to girdle it, and let it die, and then, when we tell you we don't understand this way, and your acting upon it in this spirit releases us from the obligations which accompany it, and under no circumstances can we consent to live together under that interpretation, and we say we will go, if you will let us go, in peace, we are answered by your leading spokesman, "Oh, no, we cannot do that.
We have no objection to it, personally, but we are bound by our oaths; if you attempt it, your people will be hanged for treason.
We have examined this instrument thoroughly, and we cannot find any warrant in it for releasing ourselves from the obligation of giving you all these benefits, and our oaths force us to tax you for it. We can dispense with anything else, but we protest, upon our souls, that our consciences will be sorely worried if we do not take your money." --(Laughter.) That is the proposition of the Senator
) in plain language--"We can dispense with anything and and everything else, but how to get rid of taking your money we cannot see." [Laughter.] Now, Senators
, this picture is not placed before you with any idea of acting upon any one of you, or that it will change the views or alter the conduct of any of you; all hope of that is gone.
Our committee has reported this morning that no feasible scheme of adjustment can be devised.
The day of adjustment is passed.
If you propose to make one now, you are too late.
And now, Senators
, within a very few weeks we part, to meet again as Senators
in one common council chamber of the nation, no more forever.
We desire, we beseech you, to let this parting be in peace.
I conjure you to indulge in no vain delusion, that duty, or conscience, or interest, or honor, impose upon you the necessity of invading our States, and shedding the blood of our people.
You have no possible justification for it. I trust it is from no craven spirit, or any sacrifice of the dignity or honor of my own State, that I make this last appeal, but from far higher and holler motives.
If, however, it shall prove vain — if you are resolute to pervert the government, framed by the fathers for the protection of our rights, into an instrument for subjugating and enslaving us, then, appealing to the Supreme Judge
of the universe for the rectitude of our intentions, we must meet the issue you force upon us as best becomes freemen, defending all that is dear to man. What may be the fate of this horrible contest, none can foretell; but this much I will say, the fortunes of war may be adverse to your arms; you may carry desolation into our peaceful land, and with torch and firebrand may set our cities in flames; you may even emulate the atrocities of those who, in the days of the Revolution, hounded on the blood-thirsty savage; you may give the protection of your advancing armies to the furious fanatics who desire nothing more than to add the horrors of servile insurrection to civil war; you may do all this and more, but you never can subjugate the free sons of the soil into vassals, paying tribute to your power; you can never degrade them to a servile and inferior race; never, never.
[As Mr. Benjamin
concluded his speech he was greeted with uproarious applause.
All over the galleries there were shouts and cheers, and waving of handkerchiefs and hurrahs, and the greatest confusion and excitement prevailed all over the house.]