Our Country's Crisis and Danger
Chicago Daily Journal, April 17, 1861
A solemn crisis is at length upon us. The issue is not one merely of war or peace-union or disunion—the extension or restriction—of slavery. It is one far more momentous and alarming than all these—the very existence of liberty itself—the continuance, or the disastrous overthrow, of the great principles of popular rights, Constitutional authority, and genuine liberty—for which our fathers bled on the battle field, and which have been the pride and glory of all American hearts.
The inglorious rebellion of the South is a bold and flagrant violation of the fundamental principles of all free institutions. It has outraged the Constitution, set at defiance all law, and trampled under foot that flag which has been the glorious and consecrated symbol of American Liberty. It has founded a new government, born in treachery and baptized in the blood of their brethren. It hurls defiance to the very Union which the patriots of the Revolution founded and inaugurated, with invocations to God, and with the most solemn charges to their posterity to guard and perpetuate it. And what now is the significance and import of such an event? Is the question at issue one merely of the preponderance of political power North or South? Is it whether the one or the other shall prevail in the strife of arms, and for the laurels of victory?
Far more vital, more solemn, more alarming than all ordinary struggles of political ambition or sectional interest, is the issue before us. It is whether our constitutional freedom is to be proved a shadow or a reality—whether we have a country worthy the name, or our boasted nationality is a delusion or a sham—whether law, authority, order, peaceable submission to a constitutional majority are to be set at nought and trampled upon with impunity—subverting utterly the just principles of all government, and obliterating the last vestiges of all freedom.
The Southern rebellion has started with the contemptuous denial of the right of the majority to rule. Its boasted confederacy is a compact of violence, fraud and treachery levelled against a free government, and the only one that has had the confidence, respect and admiration of mankind. Does any one imagine that a league, long plotted in secret and prosecuted with prolonged treachery, is aiming only at independence—only at the reconstruction of free government? that its pretensions of respect to the old Constitution—to the universal abhorrence of the slave trade, are sincere, and not a blind and deception?
The unscrupulous character of its leaders, the bold and shameless suppression of all the rights of free men to the minority of their own citizens, the abolition of free speech and free suffrage—all show, in characters of light, that the real and ultimate aim is the total overthrow and annihilation of all republican liberty.
Look at the powerful ranks of Unionists, who still honor our Constitution and flag in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and the yet more powerful adversaries of secession and rebellion in the Border States. What is to be their destiny, if secession riots in victory and success? What form of liberty and free institutions is to be reconstructed, when the corner-stone of its constitution blazes with the lurid, revolting glare of SLAVERY? The first Napoleon was raised to power in the French Republic under the cry of "Liberty and Equality," only to subvert its freedom, and re-establish a despotism. The second Napoleon, with even greater daring and consummate success, followed the inglorious precedent.
We repeat, the real and vital issue before our country is the existence or annihilation of freedom. Let the crisis be set forth in its true light to the country. Let the Border States comprehend the peril which is swiftly, perhaps fatally, menacing them.
It is no common strife of party, no collision of mere passing opinion, or transitory interest, that awaits the decision of our country. Without a Union that is free, without a Constitution that can be enforced, without an authority to command respect and obedience, without acknowledged deference to the voice of the people, in its constitutional majority, which cannot be arrogantly and safely violated or despised, our Republic ceases to be a Government, our freedom will be quickly supplanted by anarchy and despotism, and all the cherished hopes of our country and mankind, for enduring, and national freedom, will be blasted. Let our country choose, resolve and dare all, in the solemn and eventful issue before them.