America, or Austria?
Cincinnati Daily Commercial, December 1, 1860
The recent proscriptive and despotic treatment to which many Northern citizens have been subjected in the South, is one of the most serious and deplorable effects of the present political excitement. If not speedily arrested, it threatens to lead to the most disastrous consequences. It is impossible to maintain harmony and good feeling between the different sections of the country, where any considerable number of the people of one section are liable to continual outrage and persecution whenever they set foot in the other. The freedom of transit and the liberty of opinion must be preserved at whatever hazard, or we are no longer one people, possessed of equal rights to life and liberty. If such outrages are to go on, as have recently disgraced certain localities in the South, this nation is no longer a Republic, where the rights of all citizens are respected through all its borders, but a semi-despotic country, a part of which is controlled by an organized tyranny, and ruled by the despotism of a mob.
It is the disgrace of the absolute governments of the Old World, that a continual espionage and inquisition are kept up on the movements of all who come within their borders. Men are here watched and guarded, inspected and vise[e]d, their movements noted, their words reported, and their opinions scrutinized by an omnipresent and all-penetrating system of espionage. Go where they may, on business or pleasure, the sleepless eye of despotism is upon them. It has its informers in every village, its spies in every hotel. An incautious word, or the suspicion of entertaining liberal sentiments, may at any moment subject the traveler to arrest or insult at the hands of the meddling officials of this political inquisition.
In America, it has hitherto been our proud boast, that all men were free from any scrutiny of this kind, either at the hands of the government or of individuals. Wholly freed from the cumbrous and burdensome system of traveling passports which prevails abroad, the people of all sections of this country, as well as aliens and foreigners from all parts of the world, were free to come and go, unquestioned and unchallenged. Security of person, and liberty of opinion, have been in the United States something more than a namethey have been a reality. That which our Revolutionary fathers established, and our Constitution guaranteed, has also been, in practice, an established fact. This entire immunity from interference with the personal freedom and natural rights of men, has been the crowning glory of our institutions. We have stood before the world, a proud example of a Republic, where freedom of action and liberty of speech were guaranteed to every citizen. It has been our boast that the normal principle of our social order and governmental polity was LIBERTY, GUARDED BY LAW.
We repeatthis has been the happy distinction of our Republic. Recent events in many parts of the Southern States, taken in connexion with the new threats that are made, and the new tests that are attempted to be imposed, threaten to interrupt all freedom of intercourse, if not to destroy utterly the good name of our Republic as a free nation. Citizens of the Northern States, peaceable, inoffensive, and attentive to their own business, have been subjected to repeated insult and outrage at the hands of a portion of the people of the South. Men with no political associations whatever, pursuing the quiet tenor of their journey, without the slightest offence by word or deed, have been rudely interrupted and turned back by threats of violence, if they pursued their way further. Merchants who themselves contribute largely to the prosperity and material interests of the South, have been insulted and warned off, without the smallest provocation on their part. Travellers from the North, even in advance of any expression of their opinions, have been waited upon by unlawful and irresponsible "vigilance committees," and bidden to leave on the first train.
Not only so, but many of the residents of the South itself have been persecuted and expelled. Teachers have been driven from their schools, ministers of the gospel from their parishes, and merchants and mechanics from their lawful pursuits, on mere conjecture and suspicion of entertaining "unwholesome opinions." A system of inquisition and espionage has been inaugurated, wholly without precedent in this country, and without a parallel, save in the worst and most absolute despotisms of the old world. Men have been arrested on mere suspicion, condemned without a hearing, and subjected to the infamous and savage punishment of tar and feathers, or riding on rails, or barbarous flogging on the bare back. Not only have these things been done without color of law, but the most lawless and violent proceedings have been openly approved and sanctioned by the officers sworn to execute the laws, and protect the liberty of the citizen.
This infamous inquisition rules in some regions of the Cotton States as with a rod of iron. So far from being held in check by public opinion, it has succeeded, apparently, in sweeping public opinion headlong in its own direction, and it claims the omnipotent sanction of the majority as its defence. It is merciless, unscrupulous, truculent, reckless, audacious, and false. Its leaders are impervious to argument, deaf to the voice of justice, insensible to pity and lost to shame. With the iron hand of irresponsible power, it executes its swift decrees, and with fanaticism absolute and unrestrained, it riots in the violence and disorder it has created. It tramples upon individual rights, tears down every muniment of personal freedom, and threatens to destroy the last safeguard of constitutional liberty.
These statements are borne out by facts, numerous and well authenticated, which are reported by most recent visitors to the Southern States, and find their way into the papers of the South themselves. The question arisesand it is one of an importance which cannot be overratedwhere are these things to end? Are we to surrender the distinction of being a free country? Shall we quietly see established and fortified in our midst a worse than Austrian despotism? Are we to behold an American inquisition, having its head-quarters in the capitals of the South, and its ramifications in every village, which, like the Revolutionary Tribunal of FOUQUIER[-] TINVILLE and ROBESPIERRE, shall establish one universal reign of terror in the land?Are all the rights and privileges of American citizenship to go for nothing, and all our constitutional guarantees to be trampled pell-mell under foot? Are we to understand, that the privileges and immunities of citizens are henceforth annulled, so far as a part of the States are concerned, and that if we go there, we have got to hold our personal security and our opinions at the dictation of a mob?
If these are the liberties of American citizens, then they are not worth preserving. If these things are to continue, no man with a spark of manhood in him will ever again hold up his head in pride, when he hears the name of the United States of America. He will rather hang his head in shame and sorrow that the only Republic on the globe has gone backwardthat intolerance and fanaticism have triumphed over liberty and intelligencethat American citizenship is become a mockery, and American freedom a name.
But we will not, for the credit and honor of our common country, yield to such melancholy anticipations as these. We will not relinquish the hope, that the voice of reason and justice will prevail over the temporary terrors of bigotry and inquisitorial power. When the counsels of moderation have been heard, when the windy gusts of the tempest of fanaticism have exhausted their violence, when the evil spirit has gone out of our Southern brethren, we shall trust to behold them once more calm and in their right minds. Our liberty and our union have cost too much, and endured too long, to be thus lightly sacrificed or thrown away. When the returning reason of our fellow citizens of the cotton States shall have shown them these things in their true relations, we may hope that our national peace and harmony will return, and all sections of the country will see more clearly, from the sad experience of this divergency, that the only bond of our union, as well as the sole guarantee of our personal rights, is LIBERTY, GUARDED BY LAW.
Last Updated: July 9, 2007 8:50 PM