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Doc. 120.-debate on Johnson's resolution.

On the resolution of Andrew Johnson, declaring that the “present civil war was forced on the country by the disunionists in the South;” delivered in the United States Senate, July 25, 1861, the following debate occurred:

Mr. Breckenridge said he could not vote for the resolution, because he thought it did not state facts. The present condition of the country was due to the refusal of the majority last winter to listen to any terms of compromise or conciliation. The attack on Fort Sumter was not a sufficient cause for a general war. It was a local difficulty, which he believed might have been settled, but the subsequent acts of the President and his constitutional advisers had done much to bring about a general war. I believe, sir, the gentlemen who represent the majority of the people are responsible for the failure to bring about an adjustment of the difficulty. I do not think the Congress of the United States is acting up to its whole duty to the whole country. I believe the Senate is influenced by considerations which do not touch the interests of the whole country, and to some extent influenced by passion and resentment. I believe this war is prosecuted according to the purposes of the majority of those who are managing the legislation of the country for the purposes of subjugation, and I believe it is useless for those who wish for peace to talk to the majority here. He might as well talk to the winds. He then referred to Mr. Trumbull's amendment in regard to freeing slaves in case of being found aiding treason, and contended that it was in effect a general act of emancipation. I contend that this war is not to maintain the Constitution. On the contrary, the Constitution has been trampled under foot by the proceedings of the President. I have under-taken to show that the Constitution has been deliberately, frequently, and flagrantly violated in the course of this war. We have heard violent and denunciatory speeches made in opposition, but we have heard no argument to meet those we have adduced. They, therefore, stand unanswered, and I maintain that the war in its inception and in its prosecution is not to maintain the Constitution, but in derogation of that instrument. It is not enough to tell me that the Constitution has been violated by others. The people of the adhering States have a right to demand that the Constitution shall be the measure of the acts of the Federal Government. Nor is this war to preserve the dignity of the [404] several States unimpaired. I believe, in point of fact, if this war continues, the dignity and equality of the States will not be preserved unimpaired. I believe the prosecution of this war for twelve months will be the grave of constitutional liberty on this continent. That is my humble judgment. I believe it is no remedy for the existing difficulties. I believe, when you array ten or twelve millions on one side and nineteen or twenty millions on the other, it is a war of subjugation, and it will terminate in a conquest of one or the other, and equally disastrous to both. I am well aware I stand alone in uttering these opinions. They are my opinions, and I am responsible for them here in my place, and under the Constitution of my country I have a right to utter them in my place. I know that the rampant spirit of passion is abroad in the land, and I know there are many here and elsewhere who have staked their all upon inflaming it, and keeping it inflamed to the frenzy point. The day is not yet, but it draws nigh, when a terrible accountability will be rendered to those who are plunging the country into the vortex of ruin, under the pretext of maintaining the Constitution and the laws. Peace, peace, sir, is what we want for the restoration of the Federal Government, and the preservation of constitutional liberty.

Mr. Sherman, (rep.) of Ohio — I thank God, sir, that the speech of the Senator from Kentucky does not represent the voice of the people of Kentucky. Ohio and Kentucky have always been friends, in most cases voting together. But if the Senator from Kentucky speaks the voice of Kentucky, then Ohio and Kentucky are enemies, and I know that they are friends. I know that the words now spoken by the Senator from Kentucky do not meet with a response from the people of his own State. He says the President of the United States brought on this war, by his proclamation of April last. I ask, who fired on our flag in Charleston? Would the Senator from Kentucky have us bear the shame and ignomy and not resent it? Who assaulted Fort Sumter and fired on one of the distinguished citizens of his own State, even after he had raised a flag of truce, and fired on him while the buildings were burning over his head? Is this no act of war? Who stole the mint at New Orleans? Who captured the army in Texas and betrayed the country there? Who committed act after act of war against this country, and in violation of the Constitution organized a new government, denying the authority of the old one, and attempted to subvert the government by force? And yet nothing is said of this by the Senator from Kentucky, but the President is held up as the man who has brought this war upon us. The fact is, the people of this nation have forborne with the disunionists of the Southern States too much and too long. The honorable Senator says we refused to grant any terms of compromise. Our fathers made a compromise which we are now willing to stand upon. We do not propose to change this compromise of the Constitution; it is the only compromise we can stand upon, and the Senator from Kentucky and the disunionists of the Southern States have no right to come to me and say, you have involved the country in a civil war because you would not do what he wished you to do, because we did not change the Constitution and engraft new provisions upon it, and especially in the face of the public voice of the last election. No, Mr. President, it is the Southern disunionists who are traitors to their country, and they must, and I believe in God they will be subdued. And yet this war is not prosecuted for the purpose of subduing these men, but for compelling them to obey the laws and make them loyal subjects. There is no Senator here but what is subject to the laws, just the same as we would have these men subject to the Constitution and the laws; and all this clap-trap about subjugation, I think, had better be dismissed from the Senate. These persons must be subjugated to obedience to the Constitution, and when that is accomplished, then this resolution declares the war shall cease. As to the technical criticisms on the language of this resolution, I think it is literally true; therefore I shall vote for it. This war is not prosecuted with any idea of interfering with the institutions of the Southern States. If it was, it could not have my assent. It is prosecuted with a view to maintain the Constitution and the laws. But the Senator now seeks to justify those who seek to subvert the Government, and charges the President with subverting the Constitution and causing a civil war. In regard to the amendment of the Senator from Illinois, any slave who is used by his master actively in the prosecution of this war ought to be freed. The people whom the Senator now defends have turned pirates, declared so by the law of nations, and burn ships and capture white men, and, I am told, they actually make their prisoners of war work on their intrenchments. But you say, because we say to these men, if you use your slaves to prosecute this war — this unholy war against the Government — they shall be forfeited, that that is an act of injustice. I say it is an act of justice. One word further, in regard to a personal allusion to myself. I did say, and now repeat, that the very safety of this Government — the very existence of civil liberty and civilization itself — depends upon the result of this war. I believe if the Southern States are now able to draw a line across the continent, we shall have two Confederacies, warring with each other. I believe every thing depends upon subduing the disunionists, as pointed out by this resolution. All this difficulty has been brought about by men who, because they could not rule, are determined to ruin. I say we have been forbearing long enough. I, for one am for this war — for its active, vigilant, determined prosecution. Whether I may live or die, or whether my property may go, makes no [405] difference. It is better for every man who lives on this continent to fall a victim to this war rather than this noble country of ours should be broken.into fractions, quarrelling all the time. My voice, my life, my all shall be given freely for the purpose of maintaining the Union and carrying out in good faith the spirit and purport of this resolution.

Mr. Breckenridge said the Senator had seen fit to answer most of the remarks he had made. He then referred to the amendment of the Senator from Illinois, claiming it to be a general emancipation act. The Senator says he stands where he did, on the Constitution. That is the question. I profess to stand on that instrument, as steadily and as firmly as that Senator. I have endeavored to show that I stood upon it, and have been answered only by rhetoric and declamation. There has been no attempt to defend, on constitutional grounds, the proceedings now being enacted every day. The Senator undertakes to say that, in opposing the resolution, and in my general course here, I am not representing the people of Kentucky. I think I am. I am representing my own convictions, and as I read theirs. But to that tribunal I will submit the question, and if, indeed, the people of Kentucky believe that the prosperity of this country shall be best promoted by entering into this fratricidal and horrible war, and they shall determine to throw their energies into this struggle, not for the preservation of the Constitution and the principles of liberty, but for their destruction, I will acquiesce in her position, but I will no longer be her representative on the floor of the American Senate. The Senator from Ohio closed by saying he was for this war. I shall close by saying, that as a friend of the Constitution, as a friend of my country, as a Senator from the State of Kentucky, as a philanthropist, I am against this war.

Mr. Doolittle, (rep.) of Wis.--The Senator charges on the majority on this floor the responsibility of the country now being involved in a civil war, and charges also if the majority had yielded to the demands of the minority the country would now be at peace. Sir, what were these demands made by the minority? Not in support of the Constitution, not to stand by the Constitution as it is, but to make a new Constitution, with a provision that the institution of slavery should be carried into all the Territories we now have, and all we might hereafter acquire, even to Cape Horn. Not only did they make this demand, but they demanded it with arms in their hands. But do you suppose the representatives of the majority of the American people would acquiesce in such demands as these, made by a minority with arms in their hands, and threatening to overthrow the Government? Does that honorable Senator suppose, who was a candidate for the Presidency, and who was defeated, and when the candidate of the majority, who was elected, was about to be inaugurated, and a minority with arms in their hands, threatened to prevent that inauguration,--does he suppose the majority were to a man a humiliating demand of the minority? And, sir, worse than that, when the question was put to the representatives of this minority, If we agree to your demands that the Constitution shall be changed, will you then give up this doctrine of secession, and say you will stand by the Union hereafter? Did they agree to it? Not at all, sir. We could have no union on any terms whatever. They said we will have the right at any time, with arms in our hands, to withdraw from the Union. It was a minority, with arms in their hands, demanding not only a new Constitution, but demanding that we should acquiesce in the destruction of the Government. I will go further. I charge the friends of the honorable Senator from Kentucky with the design of breaking up the Charleston Convention long before the election, with the idea of forcing this issue to break up the Government, and I prove it by the declarations of his own friends in public.

Mr. Breckenridge said a great many personal allusions have been made, which, though not unparliamentary, are yet ungenerous and unjust. The Senator from Wisconsin, I suppose, believes what he says is true. I as firmly believe it not to be true, and that it was not true was proved by the conduct of those persons after the result of the election was known, in their long-continued, persistent efforts to adjust this question, but it was refused. In regard to myself, those who knew me best, know that never, from the moment I first knew what the Constitution of my country was, did I ever utter one word or cherish one thought that was false to the Constitution and Union of the country.

Mr. Browning, (rep.) of Ill., intended to vote for the resolution, but could not permit the remarks of the Senator from Kentucky to go unreplied to. The Senator had been allowed the largest liberty, and he has taken every opportunity to assail the President, but he had not heard a single word of denunciation against those who seized the property and assaulted the flag. He desired to know whether he approved the acts of South Carolina in attempting to withdraw from the Union, and the acts of those States who followed her in treason. He desired to ask the Senator from Kentucky what the President should have done when the flag was fired on, when loyal men were fired on and their lives assailed. He has not informed us, nor none of those who assailed the President have informed us. Should the Government have humbled itself before treason? If not, what else could it do? Those are deluding themselves totally who think that any compromise with treason will close this war. Chivalric Southern treason boasts that the slaves are arming in their behalf, but if suggested that the North put arms in the hands of its black citizens, then goes up a dismal howl. Let them beware lest they teach us a lesson — if they [406] force us to assume that he would advise the President to proclaim universal emancipation. The Senator from Kentucky said we need peace; but how was peace to come. He contended that all propositions for peace were fiercely denounced by Senators from Virginia and others.

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