Mr. Douglas' Letter
New Orleans Daily Crescent, November 15, 1860
We published yesterday morning the letter of Senator Douglas in reply to an invitation signed by a large number of our citizens, without reference to party divisions, asking him to address the people of New Orleans "on the present condition of the affairs of our country" at such time as would comport with his convenience. The correspondence was handed in at too late an hour to admit of comment yesterday morning.
Senator Douglas gracefully acknowledges the compliment paid him, but declines to speak, giving good reasons for the declension. In this we think he acted wisely and judiciously. But, instead of a speech, he has written a long letter, which has, no doubt, been read by most of our citizens ere this. Upon that letter we propose commenting, touching some of its more salient points.
Senator Douglas is, of course, a strong Union man, and holds that the Constitution affords a remedy for every grievance. This was to be expected, for the Senator has reiterated the sentiment on numerous occasions during the late canvass. We do not question his sincerity, but we do most positively and absolutely deny the verity of his proposition. The Constitution affords no remedy for Southern grievances. To the Southern people the Constitution is as worthless as a piece of waste paper, so far as protection to the slavery interest is concerned. The Constitution authorizes slavery; the same instrument declares that fugitives shall be returned to their masters; Congress has passed laws in accordance therewith; and the decisions of the Supreme Court affirm and maintain the mandates of the Constitution and the laws of the National Legislature. Yet, if a slaveholder of the South, in pursuance of the rights guaranteed by this Constitution, these laws and these decisions, attempts to reclaim his servant, nine great Northern States, by express legislative enactment, have declared that he shall be fined from one to five thousand dollars, and imprisoned in the penitentiary from three months to fifteen years!
Now, here is direct nullification of the Constitution, the laws, and the decress of the Supreme Court, and an intolerable grievance to the South. Where is the remedy? Where the power to right the South? Where the authority to vindicate the Constitution? Where the might to enforce the decisions of the Court with a stern and strong hand? These laws have been in force for years. Some of them were in force during Gen. Pierce's administration. All of them have been in force during Mr. Buchanan's administration. As Gen. Pierce, with a Democratic Congress to back him, could not enforce respect to the Constitution, the laws and the Court; and as Mr. Buchanan, with a Democratic Senate and a Democratic House of Representatives to sustain him, when he went into office, failed utterly in the premises, the presumption is reasonable that the Constitution is powerless, when the rights of the South are in question, and that it has no remedies for any grievances, no matter how unjust and atrocious, that may be perpetrated upon us.
Senator Douglas says: "It is not pretended, so far as I am informed, that any provision of the Constitution has been violated in the recent election." Granted. But the spirit of the Constitution, the only valuable part of it, has been utterly violated and destroyed by the action of the Northern people in electing Abraham Lincoln. The Constitution was created "in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare," etc. Those were the objects for which it was formedthe sole and exclusive objects. Has the plighted faith of our forefathers been observed? Has the spirit of the instrument they created been maintained? No! Nine Northern States denounce fines and prison-houses upon all slaveholders who attempt to vindicate their rights under this very Constitution; and every Northern State, with a solitary exception, voted for Lincoln, after a protracted canvass, which was marked by every extreme of hatred and malevolence to the South, and a fanatical desire to subjugate her to the rule of those who proclaimed times innumerable that they would, sooner or later, utterly root out and destroy her social and industrial institutions. No violation! Nearly everything precious in spirit and meaning in the Constitution has been violated so often that the encroaching section only looks upon it as a means of carrying out schemes of wrong and oppression; and if they ever succeed in inaugurating the President elect, six months will not elapse before the District of Columbia, the forts, arsenals, navy yards, hospitals, custom-houses, post-offices, mints, magazines, dockyards, warehouses, lots and parcels of ground owned by the United States, will swarm with Abolition workmen and Abolition officials. This cannot be prevented, except by force; for section 8 of the Constitution confers upon the Government exclusive jurisdiction in such cases.
This would build up an Abolition party in our midst, disturb our "domestic tranquillity," and endanger our "general welfare," but as it would all be done without violating any provision of the Constitution, according to Senator Douglas it would be our duty to submit to it! If his theory be correct, we should submit, and keep on submitting, even if the incendiary's torch is in our dwellings and the assassin's knife at our throats, because we have the Constitution, the Supreme Court and a temporary majority in Congress on our side; and if all these should fail us, and a few scores of thousands of our people should be murdered, and a few hundred of our cities and villages be laid in ashes, we have the consolation of knowing that the distinguished Senator believes that such outrages, or similar ones, "would not only make the Southern people a unit, but would arouse and consolidate all the conservative elements of the North in firm and determined resistance, by overwhelming majorities."
"Make the Southern people a unit?" Senator Douglas! We admire you for your pluck, manhood and bravery, and have always, although differing politically, spoken a good word for you, as opportunity presented itself. We have the satisfaction of informing you that that portion of the South, which is the mainspring of the mighty time-piece of the earth's commerce, is a "unit," and that when it determines upon its course of action, as it shortly will, that it will move unitedly.
"Conservative elements of the North!" Why, Senator Douglas, we are astonished that you should make use of such an expression. You might as well say, "conservative elements" of Massachusetts. That State, on the 6th of the present month, rejected the pure, the wise, the peerless Edward Everett, by over seventy thousand majority; and on the very same day, and within the very same hours, elected a Chief Magistrate by an overwhelming majority, who had presided over a meeting in Boston, and who, as presiding officer, made a speech in which he compared the execution of the felon and murderer John Brown to the martyrdom of the Apostle Paul! "Conservative elements," indeed! We want nothing to do with such conservatism, and the quicker we separate ourselves from it the safer it will be for us.
Senator Douglas speaks of the Constitution as the "supreme law" of the land. We have the high authority of Daniel Webster for saying that a bargain broken on one side is broken on all sides. A large number of Northern States, years ago, deliberately, wantonly, and causelessly violated the national compact, and released us from all obligations to them; and the result of the late election, all the circumstances considered, is the crowning point of violation on their part, which leaves scarcely any act of bad faith unperformed.
Again: Senator Douglas says, "Nothing has yet occurred to release any citizen from his oath of fidelity to the Constitution of the United States." Very few of our citizens have ever taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States. All are true to Louisiana. All acknowledge the supreme sovereign authority of Louisiana; and when the day of trial comes, all will be found arrayed in serried phalanx on the side of Louisiana. "If this be treason, make the most of it."
In conclusion, we feel constrained to say that we never read anything from the pen of Senator Douglas which gave us so little satisfaction. It would have been better had he not said a word. The role of pacificator does not suit his intellect, genius or temperament. He will fail signally if he attempts it. HENRY CLAY, were he alive and in health and strength, might do something in the way of reconciliation; but he is dead, and the places and the people which knew him and clung to him in adversity, only to throw him aside in sunshine and prosperity, will know him no more forever.
Last Updated: July 10, 2007 3:44 PM