The Press on the Message.
The Message is, of course, generally commented on by the press.
We take from our exchanges brief paragraphs, which will show the general tone of comment.
The Washington Constitution interprets the Message to mean that the Southern States
may secede if they please, without fear of coercion.
conclusively exhibits the untenableness of a position which would reduce sovereign States to the dependent standard of provinces, and would invest the Federal Government
with the attributes of absolutism — inform, perhaps, recognizing Democratic principles, but in reality laying the foundations of an oligarchy or a dictatorship.
The most strenuous advocate of Southern rights could not desire more explicit language than that which the President
has employed; nor can any Northern man, intelligently appreciating the genius of the federal system, dispute the reasoning adduced in support of the position, or the consequences to which it inevitably leads.
‘"After much serious reflection,"’ Mr. Bachanan
declares he has ‘"arrived at the conclusion that neither to Congress nor to any other department of the Government
belongs the power to coerce a State into submission which is attempting to withdraw, or has actually withdrawn, from the Confederacy
."’--The inference is plain, if not indeed expressed, that, in the judgment of Mr. Buchanan
, Congress cannot constitutionally confer upon the Executive
power to employ military force as against States which may secede.
The National Intelligencer thus explains the contradiction which the President
commits in denying the right of secession and yet holding that Congress has no right to use coercion to prevent secession.
In effect, Mr. Buchanan
asserts secession to be a constitutional wrong, and yet denies that Congress has the power to prevent the perpetration of that wrong.
On this the Intelligencer says:
If the President
's denial that our Federal Union is ‘"a mere voluntary
association of States"’ may seem to any in conflict with the opinion propounded in the sequel of his argument on this topic, when he holds that Congress has no power ‘"to make war on a State,
"’ onto ‘"coerce a State into submission,"’ it is perhaps just to observe that this apparent
logical contradiction springs from a failure to discriminate between the action of States
and of individuals
under a government like ours.--The laws of the United States
, within the sphere of their jurisdiction, are incumbent on the individual citizens of every State in the Union
, and the Chief Magistrate
being bound ‘"to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, "’ it obviously follows, as the Message affirms, that ‘"from this obligation he cannot be absolved by any human authority."’ If the spirit of disaffection and revolt in any State has become so rife that to resist the contumacy of individuals is to resist the entire State, it may well be said that in such a case "coercion," however clear in point of "right," would be little likely to prove a remedy.
The logic of events must doubtless be respected as well as the logic of constitutional law, but the latter is not required, for that reason, to lower its pretensions in the forum of argument.
The New York Tribune bitterly attacks the President
's arraignment of the Northern States
, but is of the opinion that what he says ‘"of the alleged right of secession, and the inexpediency, if not impossibility of coercion, is in the main forcibly and well said. "’ It concludes:
On the whole, though there is but a small portion of the Message as printed that we can approve, we heartily thank the President
for the four columns that, on revision, he omitted.
The omission of another like amount would have rendered it quite a respectable document.
We thank him, moreover, for the similar messages that he will refrain from writing throughout the years to come.
And, though we cannot commend the moral insensibility which renders him unable to see why any good citizen should detest slave-hunting in free States, we can heartily congratulate him on the fact that he is soon to be relieved from the cares of State, and we assure him that in such relief the great body of the people will heartily sympathize.
With regard to the want of constitutional authority to coerce a seceding State, the New York Times says:
It seems incredible that any man holding a high official position should put forth such an argument.
It is not a question of war at all — nor is it a question between the State
and the Federal Government
It is simply a question of obedience to the laws of Congress
--and the obligation rests upon the individual citizens of the State
It is their duty to obey those laws, and the State
has no authority to release them from such obedience, because the Federal Constitution
, and the laws made in pursuance thereof, are expressly declared by the Constitution
itself to be the supreme law of the land, ‘"anything in the Constitution
or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding. "’ The Government has precisely the same power to enforce every law of Congress in South Carolina
that it has to enforce the Fugitive Slave
law in Massachusetts
. Mr. Buchanan
does not invoke the war-making powers in the one case — why should he in the other?
The Times concludes:
The Message, in our judgment, is an incendiary document, and will tend still further to exasperate the sectional differences of the day. It backs up the most extravagant of the demands which have been made by the South
, endorses their menace of disunion if those demands are not conceded — and promises the seceding States that the power of the Federal Government
shall not be used for their coercion.
The entire North
will be made doubly indignant by this flagrant dereliction of duty on the part of the Executive
of the Nation, while the Disunionist of the South
will be stimulated to fresh exertions in the work of ruin upon which they have embarked.
The country has to struggle through three months more of this disgraceful imbecility and disloyalty to the Constitution
The New York World, in an article generally commendatory of the Message, says:
His views of the inadequacy of the alleged reasons for this formidable secession movement; of the safety and the duty of further deliberation and delay; of the restraints, favorable to conservatism, which the responsibilities of office will impose on Mr. Lincoln
, of the absurdity of secession when claimed as a constitutional right, and his construction of his own duties and powers under existing laws, are sound, and well suited to the grave exigency they are intended to meet.
But, when he proceeds to address Congress on its
duties, his recommendations seem to us a great deal better than his reasoning.
Whether the Federal Government
has power to coerce a State into submission will, at this juncture, be thought a question of no practical consequence by that part of the country (probably a great majority) who agree with the President
that such a power ought not to be exerted, if the Constitution
confers it. If we are not to cut this gordian knot, but to untie it; if the country is to be extricated from these difficulties, not by the strong arm, but by argument, by expostulation, by persuasion, by concession, it makes no difference whether there is thunder sleeping in the national cannon or not. Since Mr. Buchanan
's recommendations are patriotic and statesman like, we are in no mood to quarrel with that part of his reasoning from which we dissent.
In relation to the right of coercion, the Philadelphia American
On this point we are surprised to find that he has come to views quite at variance with those of the opening of his Message.
He believes that no power has been delegated to Congress to suppress revolution in a State; this government of so much power becomes powerless in the very crisis which tries its strength.
If resistance to the laws is attempted by a State government, such resistance cannot be suppressed, because to do so would be making war on a State, in his argument; and if this position is correct, the legal ties which bind the Union
are less than ropes of sand.--This part of the Message, if it were not extra judicial, and, therefore, of no more value than any individual's opinion, would destroy the whole force of the statements of duty which precede it; for if a President can act on principles so loose, he can destroy all law and order when he will.
We believe, however, that this part of the Message was prepared in a spirit of weak concession to the disunion elements of the Cabinet
, and was intended to cater to the prevailing sentiment of disunion States.
We regret this error, not because we advocate coercion, or assume now to say what the duty of the General Government
may be when the exigency comes, but because we deprecate the loosening of all restraints and the release of all penalties at a time when such release directly incites to the worst acts of treason to the only power which can preserve the nation in peace.
The Philadelphia Press says that the President
‘"could have offered no more grateful argument to the disunionists"’ than that in relation to coercion, and adds:
"The sum and substance of this Message, able as it is, amounts to a recommendation to the Southern States
, who believe themselves to be aggrieved, to leave the Union
, and an encouragement that, in the event of their doing so, there is no authority to be found, either in the Constitution
or the laws under it, to
punish them or call them back.
We repeat that secession must end in civil war, and the sooner the public mind settles itself upon this idea the better.
A thousand events will precipitate a conflict between the States that go out and those that remain in; and it is this apprehension, daily thickening and darkening upon Congress and the country, that should induce the cotton States to pause, and rally the border States around the Union
The Philadelphia Bulletin, in an article attacking the Message, says:
By declaring that secession is revolution, and then declaring that the United States
have no power to put down revolution, the President
puts the country in about as ridiculous a position as any poor country ever was placed in. He virtually says that our Constitution and our Union are a stupendous sham; that while we have been boasting of being a great country, with a strong government, good laws and the power to enforce them, we have no government at all; in a word, that we are a humbug among nations, and not entitled to a particle of respect from foreign powers.
Are the people of the United States
prepared to admit all this to be true?
Is this the sum of all that has been achieved by our revolution, by our Constitution and by our eighty-four years of existence separated from England