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[172]

Mr. Lincoln's predecessor in the presidential chair had publicly proclaimed that coercion was both illegal and inexpedient; and for the three months which intervened between the secession of South Carolina and the inauguration of the Republican President, the Government made not the slightest attempt to interfere with the peaceable establishment of the new Confederacy. Nota single soldier reinforced the garrisons of the military posts in the South. Not a single regiment was recalled from the Western frontiers, and the seceded States, without a word of protest, were permitted to take possession, with few exceptions, of the forts, arsenals, navy yards and custom-houses which stood in their own territory. It seemed that the Federal Government was only waiting until an amicable arrangement might be arrived at as to the terms of separation.

If, in addition to the words in which she had assented to the Constitution, further justification were needed for the belief of Virginia in the right of secession, it was assuredly to be found in the apparent want of unanimity on so grave a question even in the Republican party, and in the quiescent attitude of the Federal Government.

It remained, therefore, for the stern arbitrament of war to decide what was before undecided, namely, that the framers of the Federal Constitution had builded stronger than they knew, or, at least, than they had avowed; and that they had indeed contributed to posterity a new principle of political science, to-wit: that sovereignty may be divided, and that a sovereign State may yield and surrender absolutely and irrevocably certain of its sovereign rights, even as an individual may yield and surrender absolutely and irrevocably certain of his natural rights, in order to form civil government.

Meanwhile, until this momentuous decision was so made, it was but following the dictates of the highest patriotism and loyalty to truth, as Dr. Bledsoe clearly demonstrates, for ‘all who fought and suffered in the great war of coercion’ to hazard their all, as they did in that great struggle, with an unselfish devotion that in itself is a priceless heritage to posterity.

As so admirably said by that inimitable historian (Mr. Henderson) last quoted (Vol. I. p. 123):

The North, in resolving to maintain the Union by force of

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