The Question of Force

Harrisburg Daily Patriot and Union, January 4, 1861

Should a number of the Southern States declare their desire to withdraw from the Union, it would present an entirely different question from that involved in the attempted secession of a single State. As far as the Administration of the general government is concerned, it has certain duties to perform from which it cannot flinch. It must protect the property of the Federal Government from assault. It has no power to recognize any State as out of the Union. But it may become a serious question for the determination of Congress and the people whether they will attempt to preserve the Union by force—whether force can do it, and, if it can, whether it would be worth preserving by such means.

Our government is entirely one of public opinion. It is fresh in the recollection of every one that the Republican party made a great outcry about the attempt of the Administration to force a constitution upon the unwilling people of Kansas; and this charge still figures in their bill of indictment against the present Administration.

If it was a great crime to force an objectionable constitution upon Kansas, is it not a much greater crime to force an odious government upon the protesting citizens of sovereign States at the mouth of the cannon and the point of the bayonet? Is not the sacred principle of self-government as much violated in attempting to fasten upon the people of the States a government which they desire to escape from, as in attempting to impose an unpopular constitution upon the people of a territory?

Suppose that the people of a territory belonging to the United States should refuse to form a constitution and make application for admission into the Union, where would Congress derive power to force them to assume the position of a State? The will of the people is so absolutely law, that a territory might refuse to come into the Union, after it had acquired sufficient population to make two or three States; and it could not be dragged into the Union. Congress could not make a constitution for it, and force the people to adopt such constitution. As force cannot be applied to a territory without destroying the freedom of its citizens, how can it be applied to States, without undermining the foundations of our Republican system of government[?]