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Chapter 6:

  • Mr. Lincoln's election to the Presidency
  • -- its danger to the Union -- warnings of the President and his trying position -- his policy in the emergency, and the reasons for it -- his supreme object the preservation of the Union-meeting of Congress, and the hostility of the two parties toward each other -- the wrongs of the Southhow rash and causeless would be rebellion in the cotton States -- the right of secession discussed and denied in the message -- the President's position defined -- question of the power to coerce a State -- distinction between the power to wage war against a State, and the power to execute the laws against individuals -- views of Senator (now President) Johnson, of Tennessee -- President Buchanan's solemn appeal in favor of the Union -- his estrangement from the secession leaders -- Cessation of all friendly intercourse between him and them.

On the 6th November, 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States, and immediately thereafter the Legislature of South Carolina passed an Act for the call of a Convention to carry the State out of the Union, calculating that by this precipitate violence she might force the other cotton States to follow in her lead.

Every discerning citizen must now have foreseen serious danger to the Union from Mr. Lincoln's election. After a struggle of many years, this had accomplished the triumph of the antislavery over the slaveholding States, and established two geographical parties, inflamed with malignant hatred against each other, in despite of the warning voice of Washington. It at once became manifest that the apprehensions of civil war, arising from this event, had proved as disastrous to the business of the country as if the struggle had actually commenced. Although the. harvests of the year had been abundant, and commerce and manufactures had never been more prosperous, terror and alarm everywhere prevailed. In the midst of all the elements of prosperity, every material interest was at once greatly [109] depressed. With a sound currency in abundance, the price of all public securities fell in the market. The credit of the Federal Government, which had before stood so high, was unable to resist the shock. The small necessary loans to meet the previous appropriations of Congress, could not be obtained except at ruinous rates.

Throughout more than a quarter of a century the late President, on every fitting occasion, had solemnly warned his countrymen of the approaching danger, unless the agitation in the North against slavery in the South should cease. Instead of this, it still continued to increase, year after year, with brief intervals only, until it has become at length the unhappy, though unjustifiable cause, perhaps the criminal pretext, for the secession of eleven slaveholding States from the Confederacy.

The President had less than four months to complete his term of office. The Democratic party, to which he owed his election, had been defeated, and the triumphant party had pursued his administration from the beginning with a virulence uncommon even in our history. His every act had been misrepresented and condemned, and he knew that whatever course he might pursue, he was destined to encounter their bitter hostility. No public man was ever placed in a more trying and responsible position. Indeed, it was impossible for him to act with honest independence, without giving offence both to the anti-slavery and secession parties, because both had been clearly in the wrong. In view of his position, and after mature reflection, he adopted a system of policy to which ever afterward, during. the brief remnant of his term, he inflexibly adhered. This he announced and explained in the annual message to Congress of the 3d December, 1860, and in the special message thereafter of the 8th January, 1861.

The Cabinet was then composed of Lewis Cass, of Michigan, Secretary of State; Howell Cobb, of Georgia, Secretary of the Treasury; John B. Floyd, of Virginia, Secretary of War; Isaac Toucey, of Connecticut, Secretary of the Navy; Jacob Thompson, of Mississippi, Secretary of the Interior; Joseph Holt, of Kentucky, Postmaster-General, in the place of [110] Aaron V. Brown, of Tennessee, deceased; and Jeremiah S. Black, of Pennsylvania, Attorney-General.

The annual message throughout, before it was communicated to Congress, had been warmly approved by every member of the Cabinet, except so much of it as denied the right of secession, and maintained the duty of defending the public property and collecting the revenue in South Carolina, to which Messrs. Cobb and Thompson objected. These having now become practical questions of vital importance, both felt it would be impossible to remain in the Cabinet whilst holding opinions upon them in opposition to the known and settled convictions of the President. They accordingly resigned after the meeting of Congress, remaining in office for a brief period, to enable them to bring up and close the ordinary business of their respective departments, and thus clear the way for their successors.

At this critical moment, and but nine days after Congress had assembled, General Cass, on the 12th December, 1860, resigned the office of Secretary of State, notwithstanding the message had, but a few days before, elicited from him strong expressions of approbation. Of this resignation and the circumstances preceding and following it, we forbear to speak, not doubting it proceeded at the moment from a sense of duty. Attorney-General Black was, in consequence, appointed Secretary of State, and the vacancy thereby created was filled by the appointment of Edwin M. Stanton as Attorney-General.

Philip F. Thomas, formerly Governor of Maryland, and then Commissioner of Patents, was appointed, Secretary of the Treasury, in place of Mr. Cobb, who had resigned on the 8th December, but he did not long continue in office, having also resigned on the 11th January, 1861. The reason he assigned was a difference of opinion from the President and a majority of the Cabinet in regard to the measures which had been adopted against South Carolina, and the purpose of the President to enforce the collection of the customs at the port of Charleston. Immediately thereafter, the President tendered the appointment of Secretary of the Treasury to General John A. Dix, of New York, which was, much to his satisfaction, promptly ac cepted. [111]

The Interior Department remained vacant after the retirement of Mr. Thompson, but its duties were ably and faithfully performed by Moses Kelly, the chief clerk, until the close of the administration. Upon Mr. Holt's transfer, late in December, 1860, from the Post Office to the War Department, the first Assistant Postmaster-General, Horatio King, of Maine, continued for some time to perform the duties of the Department in a highly satisfactory manner, when he was appointed Postmaster-General. After these changes the Cabinet consisted of Messrs. Black, Dix, Holt, Toucey, Stanton, and King, who all remained in office until the end of Mr. Buchanan's term.

The President had earnestly desired that his Cabinet might remain together until the close of the administration. He felt sensibly the necessary withdrawal of some of its members, after all had been so long united in bonds of mutual confidence and friendship.

The President's policy was, first and above all, to propose and urge the adoption of such a fair and honorable compromise as might prove satisfactory to all the States, both North and South, on the question of slavery in the Territories, the immediate and principal source of danger to the Union; and should he fail to accomplish this object in regard to the seven cotton States, which there was too much cause to apprehend, then to employ all legitimate means to preserve and strengthen the eight remaining slave or border States in their undoubted loyalty. These States, he knew, in case of need, might prove instrumental in bringing back their erring sisters to a sense of duty.

To preserve the Union was the President's supreme object, and he considered it doubtful whether it could survive the shock of civil war. He was well aware that our wisest statesmen had often warned their countrymen, in the most solemn terms, that our institutions could not be preserved by force, and could only endure whilst concord of feeling, and a proper respect by one section for the rights of another, should be maintained. Mr. Madison in this spirit had observed, in the Federal Convention,1 [112] that ‘Any Government for the United States, formed upon the supposed practicability of using force against the unconstitutional proceedings of the States, would prove as visionary and fallacious as the Government of [the old] Congress.’ And General Jackson, a high authority, especially on such a subject, had declared in his Farewell Address2 (3d March, 1837), that ‘the Constitution cannot be maintained, nor the Union preserved, in opposition to public feeling, by the mere exertion of the coercive powers confided to the General Government. The foundations must be laid in the affections of the people; in the security it gives to life, liberty, character, and property, in every quarter of the country; and in the fraternal attachments which the citizens of the several States bear to one another, as members of one political family, mutually contributing to promote the happiness of each other. Hence [in evident reference to the slavery agitation in the North] the citizens of every State should studiously avoid every thing calculated to wound the sensibility or offend the just pride of the people of other States; and they should frown upon any proceedings within their own borders likely to disturb the tranquillity of their political brethren in other portions of the Union.’

The President, whilst admitting that Mr. Madison and General Jackson may have erred in these opinions, was convinced that should a rebellion break out within the seven cotton States, this could not be overcome without a long and bloody war. From the character of our people and the history of our race, it was evident that such a war, on both sides, would-be carried to desperate extremities. These seven States composed a contiguous territory of greater extent than the whole thirteen original States, and contained more than five millions of people. To vanquish them would require a very large army and an immense sacrifice of kindred blood. No person acquainted with history could be blind to the danger to which our free institutions would be exposed from such an army. History had taught us that every great Republic had fallen a victim to military power. Besides, it was morally certain that should civil war actually commence, most if not all of the border States, though [113] still adhering to the Union, would eventually be drawn into the conflict. To prosecute civil war would require an expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars. This would entail an enormous debt on ourselves and our posterity, the interest on which could only be paid by oppressive taxation. The President knew that, in the mean time, many of the great commercial, manufacturing, artisan, and laboring classes would be exposed to absolute ruin. It was therefore his supreme desire to employ all the constitutional means in his power to avert these impending calamities.

In the midst of these portentous circumstances, both present and prospective, Congress met on the first Monday of December, 1860, and the President on the next day transmitted to them his annual message. The opposing parties, instead of presenting the peaceful aspect becoming the Representatives of a great Confederacy assembled to promote the various interests of their constituents, breathed nothing but mutual defiance. There was no longer any social or friendly intercourse between the Pro-Slavery and Anti-Slavery members. South Carolina had called a Convention for the avowed purpose of adopting a secession ordinance; and the other cotton States were preparing to follow her example.

Such was the situation at the meeting of Congress, and it was most unfortunate that but few individuals in the Northern States justly appreciated the extent and magnitude of the danger. These facts stared every unprejudiced observer in the face. The danger was upon us, and how to remove it was a question for enlightened and patriotic statesmanship. The stake involved was no less than the peace and perpetuity of the Union. The evil could not be averted by any argument, however conclusive, against the right of a State peacefully to secede from the Union. This dangerous heresy had taken thorough possession of the Southern mind, and the seven cotton States were acting and preparing to act in accordance with it. There was but one mode of arresting their headlong career, and this was promptly to recognize their rights over slave property in the Territories, as they existed under the decision of the Supreme Court. If the North should refuse to do this and reject any compromise, [114] the secession of the cotton States would be inevitable. Apart from the factitious importance with which party spirit had invested the question, it was little more in point of fact than a mere abstraction. The recognition of the decision of the Supreme Court on the part of Congress, would not have added a single slave or a single slave State to the number already existing. The natural and irreversible laws of climate would prove an insurmountable barrier against the admission of any of our Territories as a slave State into the Union.

The President, therefore, in his annual message of 3d December, 1860, appealed to Congress to institute an amendment to the Constitution recognizing the rights of the Southern States in regard to slavery in the Territories. But before we proceed to give the history and the fate of this recommendation, it is necessary to revert to previous portions of the message, in which he endeavored to hold the balance fairly between the North and the South.

And first in respect to the wrongs which the South had suffered, he says:

The long-continued and intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery in the Southern States, has at length produced its natural effects. The different sections of the Union are now arrayed against each other, and the time has arrived, so much dreaded by the Father of his Country, when hostile geographical parties have been formed.

I have long foreseen, and often forewarned my countrymen of the now impending danger. This does not proceed solely from the claim on the part of Congress or the Territorial Legislatures to exclude slavery from the Territories, nor from the efforts of different States to defeat the execution of the fugitive slave law.

All or any of these evils might have been endured by the South, without danger to the Union (as others have been), in the hope that time and reflection might apply the remedy. The immediate peril arises, not so much from these causes, as from the fact that the incessant and violent agitation of the slavery question throughout the North, for the last quarter of a century, has at length produced its malign influence on the slaves, and inspired [115] them with vague notions of freedom. Hence a sense of security no longer exists around the family altar. This feeling of peace at home has given place to apprehensions of servile insurrections. Many a matron throughout the South retires at night in dread of what may befall herself and her children before the morning. Should this apprehension of domestic danger, whether real or imaginary, extend and intensify itself until it shall pervade the masses of the Southern people, then disunion will become inevitable. Self-preservation is the first law of nature, and has been implanted in the heart of man by his Creator for the wisest purpose; and no political union, however fraught with blessings and benefits in all other respects, can long continue, if the necessary consequence be to render the homes and the firesides of nearly half the parties to it habitually and hopelessly insecure. Sooner or later the bonds of such a Union must be severed. It is my conviction that this fatal period has not yet arrived; and my prayer to God is, that he would preserve the Constitution and the Union throughout all generations.

But let us take warning in time and remove the cause of danger. It cannot be denied that for five and twenty years the agitation at the North against slavery has been incessant. In 1835, pictorial handbills and inflammatory appeals were circulated extensively throughout the South, of a character to excite the passions of the slaves, and, in the language of General Jackson, “to stimulate them to insurrection and produce all the horrors of a servile war.”

This agitation has ever since been continued by the public press, by the proceedings of State and County Conventions, and by abolition sermons and lectures. The time of Congress has been occupied in violent speeches on this never-ending subject; and appeals, in pamphlet and other forms, indorsed by distinguished names, have been sent forth from this central point and spread broadcast over the Union.

How easy would it be for the American people to settle the slavery question forever, and to restore peace and harmony to this distracted country I They, and they alone, can do it. All that is necessary to accomplish the object, and all for which the slave States have ever contended, is to be let alone and permitted [116] to manage their domestic institutions in their own way. As sovereign States, they and they alone are responsible before God and the world for the slavery existing among them. For this the people of the North are not more responsible, and have no more right to interfere, than with similar institutions in Russia or in Brazil. Upon their good sense and patriotic forbearance, I confess, I still greatly rely. Without their aid it is beyond the power of any President, no matter what may be his own political proclivities, to restore peace and harmony among the States. Wisely limited and restrained as is his power under our Constitution and laws, he alone can accomplish but little for good or for evil on such a momentous question.

The President then proceeded to show how rash and causeless would be the action of the cotton States, should they rise in revolutionary resistance against the Federal Government, at a time when their rights were in no real danger, either from the election or administration of Mr. Lincoln. He says:

And this brings me to observe, that the election of any one of our fellow-citizens to the office of President does not of itself afford just cause for dissolving the Union. This is more especially true if his election has been effected by a mere plurality and not a majority of the people, and has resulted from transient and temporary causes, which may probably never again occur. In order to justify a resort to revolutionary resistance, the Federal Government must be guilty of “a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise” of powers not granted by the Constitution. The late Presidential election, however, has been held in strict conformity with its express provisions. How, then, can the result justify a revolution to destroy this very Constitution? Reason, justice, a regard for the Constitution, all require that we shall wait for some overt and dangerous. act on the part of the President elect, before resorting to such a remedy. It is said, however, that the antecedents of the President elect have been sufficient to justify the fears of the South that he will attempt to invade their constitutional rights. But are such apprehensions of contingent danger in the future sufficient to justify the immediate destruction of the noblest system of government ever devised by mortals? From the very nature of his office, [117] and its high responsibilities, he must necessarily be conservative. The stern duty of administering the vast and complicated concerns of this Government, affords in itself a guarantee that he will .not attempt any violation of a clear constitutional right.

After all, he is no more than the chief executive officer of the Government. His province is not to make but to execute the laws, and it is a remarkable fact in our history that, notwithstanding the repeated efforts of the Anti-Slavery party, no single act has ever passed Congress, unless we may possibly except the Missouri Compromise, impairing in the slightest degree the rights of the South to their property in slaves. And it may also be observed, judging from present indications, that no probability exists of the passage of such an act by a majority of both Houses, either in the present or the next Congress. Surely, under these circumstances, we ought to be restrained from present action by the precept of Him who spake as man never spoke, that “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” The day of evil may never come unless we shall rashly bring it upon ourselves.

It is alleged as one cause for immediate secession, that the Southern States are denied equal rights with the other States in the common Territories. But by what authority are these denied? Not by Congress, which has never passed, and I believe never will pass, any act to exclude slavery from these Territories. And certainly not by the Supreme, Court, which has solemnly decided that slaves are property, and like all other property their owners have a right to take them into the common Territories and hold them there under the protection of the Constitution.

So far, then, as Congress is concerned, the objection is not to any thing they have already done, but to what they may do hereafter. It will surely be admitted that this apprehension of future danger is no good reason for an immediate dissolution of the Union. It is true that the Territorial Legislature of Kansas, on the 23d February, 1860, passed in great haste an act over the veto of the governor, declaring that slavery “ is and shall be for ever prohibited in this Territory.” Such an act, however, plainly [118] violating the rights of property secured by the Constitution, will surely be declared void by the judiciary, whenever it shall be presented in a legal form.

Only three days after my inauguration the Supreme Court of the United States solemnly adjudged that this power did not exist in a Territorial Legislature. Yet such has been the factious temper of the times that the correctness of this decision has been extensively impugned before the people, and the question has given rise to angry political conflicts throughout the country. Those who have appealed from this judgment of our highest constitutional tribunal to popular assemblies, would, if they could, invest a Territorial Legislature with power to annul the sacred rights of property. This power Congress is expressly forbidden by the Federal Constitution to exercise. Every State Legislature in the Union is forbidden by its own Constitution to exercise it. It cannot be exercised in any State except by the people in their highest sovereign capacity when framing or amending their State Constitution. In like manner it can only be exercised by the people of a Territory, represented in a convention of delegates for the purpose of framing a constitution preparatory to admission as a State into the Union. Then, and not until then, are they invested with power to decide the question whether slavery shall or shall not exist within their limits. This is an act of sovereign authority and not of subordinate territorial legislation. Were it otherwise, then indeed would the equality of the States in the Territories be destroyed, and the rights of property in slaves would depend not upon the guarantees of the Constitution, but upon the shifting majorities of an irresponsible Territorial Legislature. Such a doctrine, from its intrinsic unsoundness, cannot long influence any considerable portion of our people, much less can it afford a good reason for a dissolution of the Union.

The most palpable violations of constitutional duty which have yet been committed consist in the acts of different State Legislatures to defeat the execution of the fugitive slave law. It ought to be remembered, however, that for these acts neither Congress nor any President can justly be held responsible. Having been passed in violation of the Federal Constitution, [119] they are therefore null and void. All the courts, both State and national, before whom the question has arisen, have, from the beginning, declared the fugitive slave law to be constitutional. The single exception is that of a State court in Wisconsin; and this has not only been reversed by the proper appellate tribunal, but has met with such universal reprobation, that there can be no danger from it as a precedent. The validity of this law has been established over and over again by the Supreme Court of the United States with perfect unanimity. It is founded upon an express provision of the Constitution, requiring that fugitive slaves who escape from service in one State to another shall be “delivered up” to their masters. Without this provision it is a well-known historical fact that the Constitution itself could never have been adopted by the Convention. In one form or other under the acts of 1793 and 1850, both being substantially the same, the fugitive slave law has been the law of the land from the days of Washington until the present moment. Here, then, a clear case is presented, in which it will be the duty of the next President, as it has been my own, to act with vigor in executing this supreme law against the conflicting enactments of State Legislatures. Should he fail in the performance of this high duty, he will then have manifested a disregard of the Constitution and laws, to the great injury of the people of nearly onehalf of the States of the Union. But are we to presume in advance that he will thus violate his duty? This would be at war with every principle of justice and of Christian charity. Let us wait for the overt act. The fugitive slave law has been carried into execution in every contested case since the commencement of the present administration; though often, it is to be regretted, with great loss and inconvenience to the master, and with considerable expense to the Government. Let us trust that the State Legislatures will repeal their unconstitutional and obnoxious enactments. Unless this shall be done without unnecessary delay, it is impossible for any human power to save the Union.

‘The Southern States, standing on the basis of the Constitution, have a right to demand this act of justice from the States of the North. Should it be refused, then the Constitution, to [120] which all the States are parties, will have been wilfully violated by one portion of them in a provision essential to the domestic security and happiness of the remainder. In that event, the injured States, after having first used all peaceful and constitutional means to obtain redress, would be justified in revolutionary resistance to the Government of the Union.’

Having thus disposed of the question of revolutionary resistance, the message proceeds to discuss the right of peaceful secession from the Union claimed by the Southern States in their sovereign character. It proceeds:

I have purposely confined my remarks to revolutionary resistance, because it has been claimed within the last few years that any State, whenever this shall be its sovereign will and pleasure, may secede from the Union in accordance with the Constitution, and without any violation of the constitutional rights of the other members of the Confederacy. That as each became parties to the Union by the vote of its own people assembled in convention, so any one of them may retire from the Union in a similar manner by the vote of such a convention.

In order to justify secession as a constitutional remedy, it must be on the principle that the Federal Government is a mere voluntary association of States, to be dissolved at pleasure by any one of the contracting parties. If this be so, the Confederacy is a rope of sand, to be penetrated and dissolved by the first adverse wave of public opinion in any of the States. In this manner our thirty-three States may resolve themselves into as many petty, jarring, and hostile republics, each one retiring from the Union without responsibility whenever any sudden excitement might impel them to such a course. By this process a Union might be entirely broken into fragments in a few weeks, which cost our forefathers many years of toil, privation, and blood to establish.

Such a principle is wholly inconsistent with the history as well as the character of the Federal Constitution. After it was framed with the greatest deliberation and care, it was submitted to conventions of the people of the several States for ratification. Its provisions were discussed at length in these bodies, composed [121] of the first men of the country. Its opponents contended that it conferred powers upon the Federal Government dangerous to the rights of the States, whilst its advocates maintained that, under a fair construction of the instrument, there was no foundation for such apprehensions. In that mighty struggle between the first intellects of this or any other country, it never occurred to any individual, either among its opponents or advocates, to assert or even to intimate that their efforts were all vain labor, because the moment that any State felt herself aggrieved she might secede from the Union. What a crushing argument would this have proved against those who dreaded that the rights of the States would be endangered by the Constitution. The truth is, that it was not until some years after the origin of the Federal Government that such a proposition was first advanced. It was afterwards met and refuted by the conclusive arguments of General Jackson, who, in his message of the 16th January, 1833, transmitting the nullifying ordinance of South Carolina to Congress, employs the following language: “The right of the people of a single State to absolve themselves at will and without the consent of the other States from their most solemn obligations, and hazard the liberty and happiness of the millions composing this Union, cannot be acknowledged. Such authority is believed to be utterly repugnant both to the principles upon which the General Government is constituted, and to the objects which it was expressly formed to attain.”

It is not pretended that any clause in the Constitution gives countenance to such a theory. It is altogether founded upon inference, not from any language contained in the instrument itself, but from the sovereign character of the several States by which it was ratified. But is it beyond the power of a State, like an individual, to yield a portion of its sovereign rights to secure the remainder? In the language of Mr. Madison, who has been called the father of the Constitution, “It was formed by the States—that is, by the people in each of the States acting in their highest sovereign capacity, and formed consequently by the same authority which formed the State constitutions.” “Nor is the Government of the United States, created by the Constitution, less a Government, in the strict [122] sense of the term, within the sphere of its powers, than the governments created by the constitutions of the States are within their several spheres. It is, like them, organized into legislative, executive, and judiciary departments. It operates, like them, directly on persons and things; and, like them, it has at command a physical force for executing the powers committed to it.”

It was intended to be perpetual, and not to be annulled at the pleasure of any one of the contracting parties. The old Articles of Confederation were entitled “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union between the States; ” and by the thirteenth article it is expressly declared that “the articles of this confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the Union shall be perpetual.” The preamble to the Constitution of the United States, having express reference to the Articles of Confederation, recites that it was established “in order to form a more perfect union.” And yet it is contended that this “more perfect union” does not include the essential attribute of perpetuity.

But that the Union was designed to be perpetual, appears conclusively from the nature and extent of the powers conferred by the Constitution on the Federal Government. These powers embrace the very highest attributes of national sovereignty. They place both the sword and the purse under its control. Congress has power to make war and to make peace; to raise and support armies and navies, and to conclude treaties with foreign governments. It is invested with the power to coin money, and to regulate the value thereof, and to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States. It is not necessary to enumerate the other high powers which have been conferred upon the Federal Government. In order to carry the enumerated powers into effect, Congress possesses the exclusive right to lay and collect duties on imports, and, in common with the States, to lay and collect all other taxes.

But the Constitution has not only conferred these high powers upon Congress, but it has adopted effectual means to restrain the States from interfering with their exercise. For that purpose it has in strong prohibitory language expressly dedared [123] that “no State shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; grant letters of marque and reprisal; coin money; emit bills of credit; make any thing but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts; pass any bill of attainder,ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts.” Moreover, “without the consent of Congress no State shall lay any imposts or duties on any imports or exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws,” and if they exceed this amount, the excess shall belong to the United States. And “no State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any duty of tonnage; keep troops or ships of war in time of peace, enter into any agreement or compact with another State, or with a foreign power, or engage in war, unless actually invaded or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay.”

In order still further to secure the uninterrupted exercise of these high powers against State interposition, it is provided “that this Constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made or which shall be made under the authority of the United States, hall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”

The solemn sanction of religion has been superadded to the obligations of official duty, and all Senators and Representatives of the United States, all members of State Legislatures. and all executive and judicial officers, “both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by oath or. affirmation to support this Constitution.”

In order to carry into effect these powers, the Constitution has established a perfect Government in all its forms, legislative, executive, and judicial; and this Government to the extent of its powers acts directly upon the individual citizens of every State, and executes its own decrees by the agency of its own officers. In this respect it differs entirely from the Government under the old confederation, which was confined to making requisitions on the States in their sovereign character. This left it in the discretion of each whether to obey or to refuse, and [124] they often declined to comply with such requisitions. It thus became necessary, for the purpose of removing this barrier, and “in order to form a more perfect union,” to establish a Government which could act directly upon the people and execute its own laws without the intermediate agency of the States. This has been accomplished by the Constitution of the United States. In short, the Government created by the Constitution, and deriving its authority from the sovereign people of each of the several States, has precisely the same right to exercise its power over the people of all these States in the enumerated cases, that each one of them possesses over subjects not delegated to the United States, but “reserved to the States respectively or to the people.”

To the extent of the delegated powers the Constitution of the United States is as much a part of the constitution of each State, and is as binding upon its people, as though it had been textually inserted therein.

This Government, therefore, is a great and powerful Government, invested with all the attributes of sovereignty over the special subjects to which its authority extends. Its framers never intended to implant in its bosom the seeds of its own destruction, nor were they at its creation guilty of the absurdity of providing for its own dissolution. It was not intended by its framers to be the baseless fabric of a vision, which, at the touch of the enchanter, would vanish into thin air, but a substantial and mighty fabric, capable of resisting the slow decay of time, and of defying the storms of ages. Indeed, well may the jealous patriots of that day have indulged fears that a Government of such high powers might violate the reserved rights of the States, and wisely did they adopt the rule of a strict construction of these powers to prevent the. danger. But they did not fear, nor had they any reason to imagine that the Constitution would ever be so interpreted as to enable any State by her own act, and without the consent of her sister States, to discharge her people from all or any — of their federal obligations.

It may be asked, then, are the people of the States without redress against the tyranny and oppression of the Federal Government? By no means. The right of resistance on the [125] part of the governed against the oppression of their governments cannot be denied. It exists independently of all constitutions, and has been exercised at all periods of the world's history. Under it, old governments have been destroyed and new ones have taken their place. It is embodied in strong and express language in our own Declaration of Independence. But the distinction must ever be observed that this is revolution against an established Government, and not a voluntary secession from it by virtue of an inherent constitutional right. In short, let us look the danger fairly in the face; secession is neither more nor less than revolution. It may or it may not be a justifiable revolution; but still it is revolution.

The President having thus attempted to demonstrate that the Constitution affords no warrant for secession, but that this was inconsistent both with its letter and spirit, then defines his own position. He says:

What, in the mean time, is the responsibility and true position of the Executive? He is bound by solemn oath, before God and the country, “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” and from this obligation he cannot be absolved by any human power. But what if the performance of this duty, in whole or in part, has been rendered impracticable by events over which he could have exercised no control? Such, at the present moment, is the case throughout the State of South Carolina, so far as the laws of the United States to secure the administration of justice by means of the Federal judiciary are concerned. All the Federal officers within its limits, through whose agency alone these laws can be carried into execution, have already resigned. We no longer have a district judge, a district attorney, or a marshal in South Carolina. In fact, the whole machinery of the Federal Government necessary for the distribution of remedial justice among the people has been demolished, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace it.

The only acts of Congress on the statute book bearing upon this subject are those of the 28th February, 1795, and 3d March, 1807. These authorize the President, after he shall have ascertained that the marshal, with his posse comitatus, is [126] unable to execute civil or criminal process in any particular case, to call forth the militia and employ the army and navy to aid him in performing this service, having first by proclamation commanded the insurgents “ to disperse and retire peaceably to their respective abodes within a limited time.” This duty cannot by possibility be performed in a State where no judicial authority exists to issue process, and where there is no marshal to execute it, and where, even if there were such an officer, the entire population would constitute one solid combination to resist him.

The bare enumeration of these provisions proves how inadequate they are without further legislation to overcome a united opposition in a single State, not to speak of other States who may place themselves in a similar attitude. Congress alone has power to decide whether the present laws can or cannot be amended so as to carry out more effectually the objects of the Constitution.

The same insuperable obstacles do not lie in the way of executing the laws for the collection of the customs. The revenue still continues to be collected, as heretofore, at the custom-house in Charleston, and should the collector unfortunately resign, a successor may be appointed to perform this duty.

Then, in regard to the property of the United States in South Carolina. This has been purchased for a fair equivalent, “by the consent of the Legislature of the State,” “for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals,” &c., and over these the authority “to exercise exclusive legislation” has been expressly granted by the Constitution to Congress. It is not believed that any attempt will be made to expel the United States from this property by force; but if in this I should prove to be mistaken, the officer in command of the forts has received orders to act strictly on the defensive. In such a contingency the responsibility for consequences would rightfully rest upon the heads of the assailants.

Apart from the execution of the laws, so far as this may be practicable, the Executive has no authority to decide what shall be the relations between the Federal Government and South Carolina. He has been invested with no such discretion. He [127] possesses no power to change the relations heretofore existing between them, much less to acknowledge the independence of that State. This would be to invest a mere executive officer with the power of recognizing the dissolution of the Confederacy among our thirty-three sovereign States. It bears no resemblance to the recognition of a foreign de facto Government, involving no such responsibility. Any attempt to do this would, on his part, be a naked act of usurpation. It is, therefore, my duty to submit to Congress the whole question in all its bearings.

Then follows the opinion expressed in the message, that the Constitution has conferred no power on the Federal Government to coerce a Sate to remain in the Union. The following is the language:

The question fairly stated is, “Has the Constitution delegated to Congress the power to coerce a State into submission which is attempting to withdraw, or has actually withdrawn from the Confederacy?” If answered in the affirmative, it must be on the principle that the power has been conferred upon Congress to make war against a State.

After much serious reflection, I have arrived at the conclusion that no such power has been delegated to Congress or to any other department of the Federal Government. It is manifest, upon an inspection of the Constitution, that this is not among the specific and enumerated powers granted to Congress; and it is equally apparent that its exercise is not “necessary and proper for carrying into execution” any one of these powers. So far from this power having been delegated to Congress, it was expressly refused by the Convention which framed the Constitution.

It appears from the proceedings of that body that on the 31st May, 1787, the clause “authorizing an exertion of the force of the whole against a delinquent State” came up for consideration. Mr. Madison opposed it in a brief but powerful speech, from which I shall extract but a single sentence. He observed: “The use of force against a State would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment, and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound.” Upon his motion [128] the clause was unanimously postponed, and was never, I believe, again presented. Soon afterwards, on the 8th June, 1787, when incidentally adverting to the subject, he said: “Any government for the United States, formed on the supposed practicability of using force against the unconstitutional proceedings of the States, would prove as visionary and fallacious as the government of Congress,” evidently meaning the then existing Congress of the old confederation.

The Republican party have severely but unjustly criticized this portion of the message, simply because they have not chosen to take the distinction between the power to make war against a State in its sovereign character, and the undoubted power to enforce the laws of Congress directly against individual citizens thereof within its limits. It was chiefly to establish this very distinction that the Federal Constitution was framed. The Government of the old Confederation could act only by requisitions on the different States, and these, as we have seen, obeyed or disobeyed according to their own discretion. In case of disobedience, there was no resort but to actual force against them, which would at once have destroyed the Confederacy. To remove the necessity for such a dangerous alternative, the present Constitution, passing over the Governments of the States, conferred upon the Government of the United States the power to execute its own laws directly against their people. Thus all danger of collision between the Federal and State authorities was removed, and the indissoluble nature of the Federal Union established. The Republican party have, notwithstanding, construed the message to mean a denial by the President of the power to enforce the laws against the citizens of a State after secession, and even after actual rebellion. The whole tenor, not only of this message, but of the special message of the 8th January, 1861, contradicts and disproves this construction. Indeed, in the clause of the first, immediately preceding that relied upon, and whilst South Carolina was rapidly rushing to secession, he expressed his determination to execute the revenue laws whenever these should be resisted, and to defend the public property against all assaults. And in the special message, after South Carolina and other States had seceded, he reiterated this [129] declaration, maintaining both his right and his duty to employ military force for this purpose. Having proved secession to be a mere nullity, he considered the States which had seceded to be still within the Union, and their people equally bound as they had been before to obey the laws.

The Disunionists, unlike the Republicans, placed the correct construction upon both messages, and therefore denounced them in severe terms.

The President was gratified to observe that Senator Johnson, of Tennessee, a few days after the date of the first message, placed this subject in its true light, and thereby exposed himself to similar denunciations. In his speech of 18th December, 1860 (‘Congressional Globe,’ p. 119), he says: ‘I do not believe the Federal Government has the power to coerce a State, for by the eleventh amendment of the Constitution of the United States it is expressly provided that you cannot even put one of the States of this Confederacy before one of the courts of the country as a party. As a State, the Federal Government has no power to coerce it; but it is a member of the compact to which it agreed in common with the other States, and this Government has the right to pass laws, and. to enforce those laws upon individuals within the limits of each State. While the one proposition is clear, the other is equally so. This Government can, by the Constitution of the country, and by the laws enacted in conformity with the Constitution, operate upon individuals, and has the right and the power, not to coerce a State, but to enforce and execute the law upon individuals within the limits of a State.’

Sound doctrine, and in conformity with that of the framers of the Constitution! Any other might, according to Mr. Madison, have been construed by the States in rebellion as a dissolution of their connection with the other States, and recognized them as independent belligerents on equal terms with the United States. Happily our civil war was undertaken and prosecuted in self-defence, not to coerce a State, but to enforce the execution of the laws within the States against individuals, and to suppress an unjust rebellion raised by a conspiracy among them against the Government of the United States. [130]

After an impartial review of all the circumstances, and a careful consideration of the danger of the crisis, the President determined to recommend to Congress to initiate such amendments to the Constitution as would recognize and place beyond dispute the rights of the Southern people, as these had been expounded by the Supreme Court. Whilst acknowledging that the cotton States were without justifiable cause for their threatened attempts to break up the Union, either by peaceful secession, as they claimed the right to do, or by forcible rebellion, he could not deny that they had suffered serious wrongs through many years from the Northern abolition party. To deny them such a security would be at war with the noblest feelings of patriotism, and inconsistent with the friendly sentiments which ought ever to be cherished between the people of sister States. We ought first to do our duty toward the cotton States; and if thereafter they should persist in attempting to dissolve the Union, they would expose themselves to universal condemnation. We should first ‘cast the beam out of our own eye,’ and then we might see clearly how to deal with our brothers' faults. Besides, such a course would have. confirmed the loyalty of the border slaveholding States. And above all, we were bound to make this concession, the strong to the weak, when the object was to restore the fraternal feelings which had presided at the formation of the Constitution, to reestablish the ancient harmony between the States, and to prevent civil war. Neither the Chicago platform, nor any other political platform, ought to have stood in the way of such a healing measure. The President, therefore, appealed to Congress to propose and recommend

to the legislatures of the several States the remedy for existing evils which the Constitution has itself provided for its own preservation. This has been tried at different critical periods of our history, and always with eminent success. It is to be found in the fifth article providing for its own amendment. Under this article amendments have been proposed by two-thirds of both houses of Congress, and have been “ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States,” and have consequently become parts of the Constitution. To this process the country is indebted for the clause prohibiting Congress from passing any [131] law respecting an establishment of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or of the right of petition. To this we are, also, indebted for the Bill of Rights, which secures the people against any abuse of power by the Federal Government. Such were the apprehensions justly entertained by the friends of State rights at that period as to have rendered it extremely doubtful whether the Constitution could have long survived without those amendments.

Again, the Constitution was amended by the same process, after the election of President Jefferson by the House of Representatives, in February, 1803. This amendment was rendered necessary to prevent a recurrence of the dangers which had seriously threatened the existence of the Government during the pendency of that election. The article for its own amendment was intended to secure the amicable adjustment of conflicting constitutional questions like the present, which might arise between the Governments of the States and that of the United States. This appears from contemporaneous history. * * *

The explanatory amendment might be confined to the final settlement of the true construction of the Constitution on three special points:

1. An express recognition of the right of property in slaves in the States where it now exists or may hereafter exist.

2. The duty of protecting this right in all the common Territories throughout their Territorial existence, and until they shall be admitted as States into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitutions may prescribe.

3. A like recognition of the right of the master to have his slave, who has escaped from one State to another, restored and “delivered up” to him, and of the validity of the fugitive slave law enacted for this purpose, together with a declaration that all State laws impairing or defeating this right are violations of the Constitution, and are consequently null and void. It may be objected that this construction of the Constitution has already been settled by the Supreme Court of the United States, and what more ought to be required? The answer is, that a very large proportion of the people of the United States still contest the correctness of this decision, and never will cease [132] from agitation and admit its binding force until clearly established by the people of the several States in their sovereign character. Such an explanatory amendment would, it is believed, forever terminate the existing dissensions, and restore peace and harmony among the States.

It ought not to be doubted that such an appeal to the arbitrament established by the Constitution itself, would be received with favor by all the States of the Confederacy. In any event, it ought to be tried in a spirit of conciliation before any of these States shall separate themselves from the Union.

The President accompanied his recommendations by a solemn appeal in favor of the Union. He says:

But may I be permitted solemnly to invoke my countrymen to pause and deliberate, before they determine to destroy this, the grandest temple which has ever been dedicated to human freedom since the world began. It has been consecrated by the blood of our fathers, by the glories of the past, and by the hopes of the future. The Union has already made us the most prosperous, and ere long will, if preserved, render us the most powerful nation on the face of the earth. In every foreign region of the globe the title of American citizen is held in the highest respect, and when pronounced in a foreign land it causes the hearts of our countrymen to swell with honest pride. Surely when we reach the brink of the yawning abyss, we shall recoil with horror from the last fatal plunge.

By such a dread catastrophe, the hopes of the friends of freedom throughout the world would be destroyed, and a long night of leaden despotism would enshroud the nations. Our example for more than eighty years would not only be lost, but it would be quoted as a conclusive proof that man is unfit for self-government.

It is not every wrong—nay, it is not every grievous wrong —which can justify a resort to such a fearful alternative. This ought to be the last desperate remedy of a despairing people, after every constitutional means of conciliation had been exhausted. We should reflect that, under this free Government, there is an incessant ebb and flow in public opinion. The slavery question, like every thing human, will have its day. I [133] firmly believe that it has reached and passed the culminating point. But if, in the midst of the existing excitement, the Union shall perish, the evil may then become irreparable.

This message proved unsatisfactory both to the Republican party and to the Pro-Slavery party in the cotton States. The leaders of this latter party in Congress, and especially Mr. Jefferson Davis, objected to it because of its earnest argument against secession, and the determination expressed to collect the revenue in the ports of South Carolina, by means of a naval force, and to defend the public property. From this moment they alienated themselves from the President. Soon thereafter, when he refused to withdraw Major Anderson from Fort Sumter, on the demand of the self-styled South Carolina Commissioners, the separation became complete. For more than two months before the close of the session all friendly intercourse between them and the President, whether of a political or social character, had ceased.

1 June 8, 1787. Sup to Elliot's Debates, voL. v., p.171.

2 2 Statesman's Manual, 951.

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