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Doc. 117. address of John C. Breckinridge to the people of Kentucky.

By your representatives in the last Legislature you conferred on me the commission of Senator in the Congress of the United States. In March last, when my term of service began, the Union had been dissolved by the withdrawal of seven States, which the policy of coercion has since increased to twelve States. At that time a majority of the people of Kentucky still cherished the hope of a peaceful reunion. Soon afterward, when the Government at Washington commenced that series of usurpations which has now left nothing of the Federal Constitution, and resolved on a war of subjugation against the withdrawing States to secure union and brotherhood, you determined to take no part in the war, but to protect your liberties by a position of armed neutrality. This decision was expressed by a large majority of the people at the election in May.

I had opposed this policy before the election, but afterward, in common with the great mass of those with whom I had acted, I acquiesced in your expressed will, and have maintained it as the fixed attitude of Kentucky. In obedience, as I suppose, to your wishes, I proceeded to Washington, and at the special session of Congress, in July, spoke and voted against the whole war policy of the President and Congress; demanding, in addition, for Kentucky, the right to refuse not men only but money also to the war, for I would have blushed to meet you with the confession that I had purchased for you exemption from the perils of the battle-field and the shame of waging war against your Southern brethren by hiring others to do the work you shrank from performing. During that memorable session a very small body of Senators and representatives, even beneath the shadow of a military despotism, resisted the usurpations of the Executive, and with what degree of dignity and firmness they willingly submit to the judgment of the world.

Their efforts were unavailing, yet they may prove valuable hereafter as another added to former examples of manly protest against the progress of tyranny.

On my return to Kentucky, at the close of the late special session of Congress, it was my purpose immediately to resign the office of Senator. The verbal and written remnonstrances of many friends in different parts of the State induced me to postpone the execution of my purpose; but the time has arrived to carry it into effect, and accordingly I now hereby return the trust into your hands.

And in this connection, since the Government at Washington has thrown a drag-net over the whole surface of society, to collect proof against individuals of connection with the Government of the Confederate States, and since a portion of the Northern press has charged that certain private correspondence, recently seized at Philadelphia by the Federal authorities, will convict me of political crimes, I deem it due to you and to myself to declare that I have not done or said any thing inconsistent with the relations I have borne to the State and to the Federal Government, or which could reflect a stain upon the commission which I now surrender.

I do not resign because I think I have misrepresented you. On the contrary. I believe that my votes and speeches in the Senate have expressed your deliberate will as attested through the ballot-box. I resign because there is no place left where a Southern Senator may sit in council with the Senators of the North. In truth, there is no longer a Senate of the United States within the meaning and spirit of the Constitution.

The United States no longer exists. The Union is dissolved. For a time after the withdrawal of the Southern States, and while there was a hope that the rupture might be healed, it might be assumed that the Union was not yet dissolved, and such was the position of Kentucky in declaring her neutrality and offering her mediation between the contending parties. But time has now elapsed, and mighty events have occurred, which banish from the minds of reasonable men all expectation of restoring the Union. Coercion has been tried and has failed. The South has mustered in the field nearly as many combatants as the North, and has been far more victorious. The fields of Manassas and Bethel, of Springfield and Lexington, have marked with a terrible and sanguinary line the division between the old order of things and the new.

It is the right of Kentucky and her peculiar duty to recognize these great facts and to act on them. The Constitution compact which created and upheld the old Union is at an end. A large number of the original and additional parties have withdrawn from it — so large a number that its stipulations can no longer be executed, and under such circumstances no [255] court has ever decided a contract to be binding between the remaining parties, or attempted to enforce its execution. The Constitution requires positively that each State shall have at least one representative in Congress, but now twelve States have none; that each State shall have two Senators, but now twelve States have none; that all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States, but now in more than one-third of them none are or can be collected. Commerce cannot be regulated between the respective States. Uniform rules of naturalization and bankruptcy cannot be adopted. Post-offices and post-roads, in nearly half the States, have been given up, and a preference is given to the ports of one State over those of another. Even the election of a President has become impossible. The Constitution is mandatory on all the States to appoint electors, and requires a majority of the latter to elect; but more than one-third of the States refuse to appoint, and hence no election can be made by the people. If the election goes to the House of Representatives, the Constitution requires that at least two-thirds of the States shall be represented in that body. The Constitution can no longer be amended; for it requires three-fourths of the States to concur, and more than one-third of the States have withdrawn from the Confederacy. All the safeguards provided for by the States in the instrument, still farther to secure public and personal liberty, have been destroyed. The three departments of the Federal Government, which were carefully separated and their boundaries defined, have been merged into one, and the President, sustained by a great army, wields unlimited power.

The exemption of persons from arrest without judicial warrant, the right of a citizen to have his body brought before a judge to determine the legality of his imprisonment, the security provided against searches and seizure without warrant of law, the sanctity of the home, the trial by jury, the freedom of speech and of the press — these and every other precious right which our fathers supposed they had locked up in the Constitution, have been torn from it and buried beneath the heel of military power. The States made the Constitution, placed rigid boundaries around that Government, and expressly reserved to themselves all powers not delegated. They did not delegate to the Federal Government the power to destroy them — yet the creature has set itself above the creator. The atrocious doctrine is announced by the President, and acted upon, that the States derive their power from the Federal Government, and may be suppressed on any pretence of military necessity. The gallant little State of Maryland has been utterly abolished. Missouri is engaged in a heroic struggle to preserve her existence and to throw off the horrors of martial law proclaimed by a subordinate military commander. Everywhere the civil has given way to the military power. The fortresses of the country are filled with victims seized without warrant of law, and ignorant of the cause of their imprisonment.

The legislators of States and other public officers are seized while in the discharge of their official duties, taken beyond the limits of their respective States, and imprisoned in the forts of the Federal Government. A subservient Congress ratifies the usurpations of the President, and proceeds to complete the destruction of the Constitution. History will declare that the annals of legislation do not contain laws so infamous as those enacted at the last session. They sweep away every vestige of public and personal liberty, while they confiscate the property of a nation containing ten millions of people. In the House of Representatives it was declared that the South should be reduced to “abject submission,” or their institutions be overthrown. In the Senate it was said that, if necessary, the South should be depopulated and re-peopled from the North, and an eminent Senator expressed a desire that the President should be made a dictator. This was superfluous, since they had already clothed him with dictatorial powers. In the midst of these proceedings, no plea for the Constitution is listened to in the North; here and there a few heroic voices are feebly heard protesting against the progress of despotism, but for the most part, beyond the military lines, mobs and anarchy rule the hour.

The great mass of the Northern people seem anxious to sunder every safeguard of freedom; they eagerly offer to the Government what no European monarch would dare to demand. The President and his generals are unable to pick up the liberties of the people as rapidly as they are thrown at their feet. The world will view with amasement this sudden and total overthrow of a Constitution which, if respected, might have been the boast and safeguard of the United States for many generations. When the historian comes to investigate the cause of this result he will record the fact that no department of the Federal Government has ever exhibited a case of aggression by the Southern States upon their Northern associates, and he will trace the dismemberment to the ignorance or disregard, upon the part of the latter, of the true principles of a Confederacy, to long continued and flagrant violations of the Constitution, to avarice, fanaticism, and general corruption. Against all these usurpations I protested in your name, in the presence of their authors, and at the seat of their powers. I protested in vain, and never again will I meet in council with the usurpers.

And now, fellow-citizens, I am sure you will pardon me if I add a few words in reference to the condition of our State and my own course. The Constitution of the United States has been destroyed, and by no act of Kentucky. The power she delegated in that instrument to the Federal Government had vested to her, and any exercise of power over her by that Government, [256] without her consent, is usurpation. In the wreck of the Federal system she exists an independent Commonwealth, with the right to choose her own destiny. She may join the North. She may join the South. She may poise herself on her own centre, and be neutral. In every form by which you could give direct expression to your will, you declared for neutrality. A large majority of the people at the May and August elections voted for the neutrality and peace of Kentucky. The press, the public speakers, the candidates — with exceptions in favor of the Government at Washington so rare as not to need mention — planted themselves on this position. You voted for it, and you meant it. You were promised it, and you expected it. The minority acquiesced in good faith, and at home and abroad this was recognized as the fixed position of the State. It was taken at the beginning of hostilities, and it is but reasonable to infer that every subsequent act of outrage by the Washington Government has confirmed your original purpose. Look, now, at the condition of Kentucky, and see how your expectations have been realized — how these promises have been redeemed.

First, by the aid of some citizens of the State, arms belonging to the whole people were illegally and secretly introduced by order of the President, and distributed to one class of our people upon the false pretence that they needed them for protection against their own fellow-citizens. This was the first violation.

Next, Federal military officers began to recruit soldiers and establish camps in our midst, and Federal money was lavishly expended, in the hope to demoralize and corrupt the people. A studied system of deception was practised as long as possible on the people. For a time it was denied that they were Federal camps, and it was said that they were merely voluntary assemblages of Kentuckians for their own protection and that of the State. These monstrous falsehoods have since been freely exposed. This was the second violation.

Previous to these events the State was in a condition of tranquillity and peace. No indications existed anywhere of internal disorder. But now the people, becoming alarmed at these proofs of a purpose to force Kentucky into the war, began to assemble in great mass meetings and to demand loudly the promised neutrality. The Washington Government, however, and its abettors in Kentucky, supposing their schemes to be ripe for execution, now resolved to have what they called “active loyalty.” About this time the Legislature met, and the drama then moved rapidly on. The camps were avowed to be Federal camps. The guns which had been clandestinely and illegally introduced, now called out to maintain “active loyalty.” Federal officers began to swarm among us. Every appliance of corruption, every allurement of ambition, was brought into play.

Presently a Federal army was in possession of large portions of the State, and the conspiracy stood fully revealed, while the people, whose only error had been their generous credulity, stood thoroughly betrayed. It is known to citizens of Louisville, of all parties, that just before that meeting of the Legislature a member of the Washington Cabinet said to a prominent citizen of Kentucky that the position of the State should not be maintained, that the Government preferred hostility to neutrality, and that Kentucky must be compelled to support the Federal Government in the war. Your wishes, fellow-citizens, had been spurned, and you have been thrown into this vortex by the Government at Washington, aided by their Kentucky sympathizers.

The pretended reason for the military occupation of the State, founded on the occupation of Columbus by Confederate troops, is uncandid and false. For, besides the fact that the invasion of Kentucky was a foregone conclusion at Washington, and that camps of soldiers were under arms in our midst to invade Tennessee, it is notorious that General Grant left Cairo to seize Paducah before the occupation of Columbus, while, in taking the latter place, the Confederate troops anticipated the Federal troops by less than an hour. For further proof of the insincerity of the false clamor about the invasion from Tennessee, the Confederate commander announced to your authorities that he occupied Columbus purely in self-defence, and stood ready at any moment to withdraw simultaneously with the Federal forces. To say that the Washington Government had a right to invade the State, is to say that you had no right to be neutral; and to submit to the invasion from a power which has effaced every vestige of the Constitution, would be to bow in the dust and surrender to a simple despotism.

It is not necessary to say much about the Legislature. A majority of them, instead of protecting the rights and persons of the citizens, have, either voluntarily or under duress, been engaged in sustaining the usurpations of the Federal Government, in passing bills of pains and penalties to terrify a spirited people into servitude, in depriving the Governor of his just constitutional authority, and in abdicating their share of the Government by formally inviting a Federal military force to take possession of the State, well knowing, as they did, that this military force would supersede the State Government. Of that body nearly one-fourth have retired because of the military occupation of the State, and the seizure, imprisonment, pursuit, and exile of many of the most eminent and patriotic citizens of the State by that military force. The voices of these members can no longer be heard in the councils of the State, nor their votes be taken. The Legislature is thus, to say the least of it, a mutilated department of the State Government.

It is true that there remains a sufficient number for a quorum; but are they free? For, when the Federal Government takes military possession of a State, its Legislature must conform [257] to the will of the military chief or be suppressed, as we have recently seen in the case of Missouri, whose State Government was dispersed and martial law proclaimed; and, still later, in the case of Maryland, when thirty-eight members of the Legislature were seized and imprisoned on the mere suspicion of intending to legislate at variance with the will of the military government. We cannot, therefore, know that the public resolutions, or pretended laws of the two bodies, are the declarations of their active will, because we have the strongest reason to believe that, if not in accordance with the will of the Governement at Washington, they would meet the fate of the Legislatures of Missouri and Maryland. On the other hand, we know that these resolutions and laws are in conflict with their public pledge, and with the expectations of the people.

It is more charitable to believe that the members at Frankfort, or a majority of them, are actuated by a fear of the military power rather than by a perverse design to violate the will of their constituents, and degrade the State to the condition which it is attempted to bring down Missouri and Maryland. If any thing were wanting to strengthen this view, it will be found in attendant events. The resolutions they adopted on the 8th of September, sanctioning the entrance of General Anderson's forces, were accompanied by one declaring that no person should be touched in his life, liberty, or property on account of his political opinions. Yet, on the very day, I believe, that these resolutions passed, the agents of the Federal Government seized the printing establishment of the Louisville Courier, the only offence of whose proprietor was that he criticized with freedom the usurpations of the Government at Washington. At the same time, and ever since, citizens of Kentucky have been imprisoned or compelled to fly from their homes and families, against whom there was no accusation but of holding opinions either unfriendly to Mr. Lincoln's Government or friendly to neutrality. It is impossible to suppose that a free Kentucky Legislature, in view of recent proceedings in other States, would have turned this State over to the posssession of a Federal military force, or betrayed the people by throwing the State into the arms of Mr. Lincoln, to be used for Southern subjugation, or consented to the suppression of the press, or suffered, without an outcry that would have pierced the skies, the indignities and outrages which have been inflicted upon the people by Federal soldiers. Fellow-citizens, you have to do now, not with this fragment of a Legislature, with its treason bills and tax bills, with its woeful subserviency to every demand of the Federal despotism, and its woeful neglect of every right of. the Kentucky citizen; but you have to deal with a power which respects neither Constitution nor laws, and which, if successful, will reduce you to the condition of prostrate and bleeding Maryland. General Anderson, the military dictator of Kentucky, announces in one of his proclamations that he will arrest no one who does not act, write, or speak in opposition to Mr. Lincoln's Government. It would have completed the idea if he had added, or think in opposition to it. Look at the condition of our State under the rule of our new protectors. They have suppressed the freedom of speech and of the press. They seize people by military force upon mere suspicion, and impose on them oaths unknown to the laws. Other citizens they imprison without warrant, and carry them out of the State, so that the writ of habeas corpus cannot reach them.

Every day foreign armed bands are making seizures among the people. Hundreds of citizens, old and young, venerable magistrates, whose lives have been distinguished by the love of the people, have been compelled to fly from their homes and families to escape imprisonment and exile at the hands of Northern and German soldiers, under the orders of Mr. Lincoln and his military subordinates. While yet holding an important political trust, confided by Kentucky, I was compelled to leave my home and family, and suffer imprisonment and exile. If it is asked why I did not meet the arrest and seek a trial, my answer is, that I would have welcomed an arrest to be followed by a judge and jury; but you well know that I could not have secured these constitutional rights. I would have been transported beyond the State, to languish in some Federal fortress during the pleasure of the oppressor. Witness the fate of Morehead and his Kentucky associates in their distant and gloomy prison.

The case of the gentleman just mentioned is an example of many others, and it meets every element in a definition of despotism. If it should occur in England it would be righted, or it would overturn the British empire. He is a citizen and native of Kentucky. As a member of the Legislature, Speaker of the House, Representative in Congress from the Ashland district, and Governor of the State, you have known, trusted, and honored him, during a public service of a quarter of a century. He is eminent for his ability, his amiable character, and his blameless life. Yet this man, without indictment, without warrant, without accusation, but by the order of President Lincoln, was seized at midnight, in his own house, and in the midst of his family, was led through the streets of Louisville, as I am informed, with his hands crossed and pinioned before him — was carried out of the State and district, and now lies a prisoner in a fortress in New York harbor, a thousand miles away. Do you think that any free Legislature ever assembled in Kentucky since the days of Charles Scott and Isaac Shelby, until now, would have permitted such a spectacle to dishonor the State? No! fellow-citizens, the Legislature could not have been free!

I would speak of these things with the simple solemnity which their magnitude demands, [258] yet it is difficult to restrain the expression of a just indignation while we smart under such enormities. Mr. Lincoln has thousands of soldiers on our soil, nearly all from the North, and most of them foreigners, whom he employs as his instruments to do these things. But few Kentuckians have enlisted under his standard, for we are not yet accustomed to his peculiar form of liberty.

I will not pursue the disgraceful subject. Has Kentucky passed out of the control of her own people? Shall hirelings of the pen, recently imported from the North, sitting in grand security at the Capitol, force public opinion to approve these usurpations and point out victims? Shall Mr. Lincoln, through his German mercenaries, imprison or exile the children of the men who laid the foundations of the Commonwealth, and compel our noble people to exhaust themselves in furnishing the money to destroy their own freedom? Never, while Kentucky remains the Kentucky of old — never, while thousands of her gallant sons have the will and the nerve to make the State sing to the music of their rifles.

The Constitution of the United States, which these invaders unconstitutionally swear every citizen whom they unconstitutionally seize to support, has been wholly abolished. It is as much forgotten as if it lay away back in the twilight of history. The facts I have enumerated show that the very rights most carefully reserved by it to States and to individuals have been most conspicuously violated. And this destruction has been accomplished, not by the President alone, but by the Congress also, and with the approval of the Northern States and people. They have deliberately made the contest a constitutional struggle between so many millions on one side and so many on the other--one party fighting for subjugation, the other in self-defence and for independence. Whatever may be the future relations of the two Confederacies, the idea of the restoration of the Union under the old Constitution is wholly visionary and delusive. If the North should conquer the South, (which it will perceive to be impossible after a few hundred millions more shall be expended and a few hundred thousand lives lost,) the character of the Government would be radically changed. It would probably not take the form even of a mixed Government, but would soon end in a military despotism. It must soon become apparent to all thoughtful men that the last hope of constitutional liberty lies in the early recognition of these great truths — in an honorable peace and friendly intercourse.

You declared your purpose not to engage in the war to subdue the South, and that you would be neutral and mediate in the interests of peace when an opportunity should offer. This is the recorded will of the State as expressed by the people. But those to represent you have violated that will. They have attempted to burden you with enormous taxes to prosecute a war you abhor, and to sustain a Government which has trampled under foot every safeguard of a Constitution which was the only bond of our political connection with it, while they have allowed that Government to cut you off from the only avenues of trade which would enable you to pay these taxes. They have invited a military force of that Government to take possession of the State, and practically to supersede the State Government, and they have seen, with complacency, these foreign soldiers seize, imprison, and pursue hundreds of your fellow-citizens — fugitives, without a crime, over the plains and mountains of Kentucky. In a word, they have attempted, without consulting you, and against your recorded wishes, to place you in active hostility to your Southern brethren, and to fix your political destiny with the North.

Whatever may be the condition or motives of the members at Frankfort, they have exceeded their authority. No legislative assembly or other body, other than one elected by your sovereign voice for that purpose, has the right, in this great revolution, to determine finally your political future. The people, although taken by surprise, and almost unarmed,. have risen to vindicate their wishes and expel the Northern invaders. The eagerness with which their aid has been invoked by those who have plunged the State into her present unhappy condition, is the strongest proof of their conviction that, but for the presence of these soldiers, the action of the members at Frankfort would be repudiated by the people. When the Northern invaders shall be sent back across the Ohio River; when the State shall be relieved of all troops from abroad, and the people of Kentucky, by a fair election, shall determine their destiny, it will be the clear duty of every citizen to acquiesce or to retire from the State.

For those who, denied by the Legislature the protection due to the humblest citizen, have been delivered over to the tender mercies of foreign mercenaries, and hunted like partridges on the mountains, what remains but imprisonment, exile, or resistance? As one of them, I intend to resist. I will avoid conflict with Kentuckians, except in necessary self-defence, but I will unite with my fellow-citizens to resist the invaders who have driven us from our homes. To this course we are impelled by the highest sense of duty and the irresistible instincts of manhood. To defend your birthright and mine, which is more precious than domestic ease, or property, or life, I exchange, with proud satisfaction, a term of six years in the Senate of the United States for the musket of a soldier.

This letter is written at the first moment since my expulsion from home that I could place my feet upon the soil of Kentucky. I have not been able to see or communicate with my friend and colleague, Governor Powell, nor [259] do I know what course he will think it proper to take. But this you and I know — that his conduct will be controlled by pure motives.

Your fellow-citizen,

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