A Plea for the Union

Kentucky Statesman, November 20, 1860

Our plea is not addressed to the panic-striken Union-shriekers. We have no word of suggestion for those who propose in this hour of imminent peril, nothing beyond the Union resolves of county-town meetings, and who are ready to impugn the loyalty of every proposition for action which is not interpolated with vehement professions of unqualified devotion to the Union. Such men are worse than drones in an emergency such as that with which we have to deal. But to the intelligent citizen who understands the true extent and character of the danger which threatens us, and would strike a blow in the right direction, we beg to submit a thought or two.The people of the States of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have in every possible manner in which public sentiment can be expressed, in mass meeting, through their executive and legislative officers, through the addresses of leading men of all political parties, through the press, indicated a present determination to revolutionize the Government. We repeat that every avenue we have to the public sentiment of those States reveals to us a most appalling unanimity of feeling and opinion in favor of immediate secession from the Union. Steps are already being taken, and serious movements are now deliberately set on foot to sever their relations with the existing confederacy. That movement will accomplish its purpose if not arrested by influences beyond the border of States engaged. That powerful minority of anti-secession men to whom we have been directed so often, has not yet exhibited itself. We have as yet to note the first noticeable expression of opinion from any of the States we have named, in opposition to the revolution. Mr. A. H. Stevens [i.e., Stephens], to whom so many eager eyes were turned, has virtually seconded the whole movement, only differing from the secessionists in a preliminary evolution of the forces.’[1] There seems really to be no opposing minority in the cotton States; but if there is, it is manifestly powerless. He is a fool who doubts the settled purpose of these men, or questions that their resolution will be equal to the responsibility. They are in earnest, and will dissolve this Union before the 4th of March unless the border slave States arrest their lamentable movement.We are not of those who say “let them go!” Nor are we of those who say, “whip them in!” We are for inducing them not to secede. We shudder at the thought of a dissolution of the confederacy, and would now labor to prevent it. The Union, the Constitution, the Government will not be worth the loyalty of the patriot when six, eight, or ten, States shall have over-ridden the law and proclaimed their separate sovereignty. Let us devise some mode by which the Union can be preserved intact. We think Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri can save the cause. How? certainly not by county or State Conventions; certainly not by extenuating the aggressions of the Republican party and pledging unqualified loyalty to the government administered on Lincoln’s platform; certainly not by characterizing the action of the cotton States in harsh words of condemnation, and ignoring the wrongs which have impelled them to the step; certainly not by meaningless shrieks of Union and senseless denunciation of secession; all this does no good. If every man, woman and child in Kentucky were to assemble in one grand mass meeting, and with one acclaim resolve that secession is treason and the Union must and shall be preserved, secession would still go on, and the Union would as rapidly approach its dissolution. However much we may condemn the Southern secessionists as rash and wrong, let us not, at our own peril, mistake their character. Let us not commit the fatal folly of imagining that they are to be deterred by threats or frightened by the Opposition of Kentucky. On the contrary, let us at the earliest moment realize the fact that the more unqualifiedly Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee pledge submission to Republican rule, the more determined will be the cotton States to assume their independence. But there is a mode whereby the cotton States can be induced to hear the appeal of the border States. Let us meet them in common council. Let us have a Southern convention, and let the slave States take counsel together as to the best mode of preserving their rights in the Union. We believe that if this proposition be made to the seceding States it will be acceded to and when once in convention we believe that such action can be determined on as will deter them from the step they now propose. By this Union of purpose and concentration of action the slave States have it in their power to coerce from Mr. Lincoln and from the Republican party a recognition of their rights and an abandonment of the unconstitutional designs of that organization. This can be shown to thecotton States; and with assurances of co-operation and support from their border friends, they will try it. It seems to us that the secession of five or six States at this time would be an act of egregious folly and gross ingratitude. Mr. Lincoln is absolutely at the mercy of the anti-Republicans in Congress. He can do literally nothing without their consent and acquiescence. They have it in their power to stop the machinery of government, to withhold supplies and vacate the public offices. He will be powerless for evil now as when a private citizen of Illinois, if the opposition to him is concentrated and well directed. All this advantage would be lost if the cotton States secede and withdraw their members. The non-seceding States would be left in a minority, without power to restrain Lincoln in any of his measures. What folly, then, to throw away such an advantage, and what injustice to abandon friends at such a time! Then let us meet these States in convention and appeal to them with these and other equally strong arguments. The Louisville Journal, a few days ago, appealed to Mr. Breckinridge to go South and to employ whatever influence he might have to restrain this movement. Won’t the journal now join us in an appeal to the Governor to appoint one or two leading and influential men from each of the three parties in Kentucky to meet similar delegates from all the Southern States in Convention, and there represent the true feeling of our State? If assent be not given to this proposition, then answer us, what on earth do you propose to do?We believe that six or eight States will, on or before the 4th of March next, be virtually and formally without the Union, unless some action is taken to prevent it. We see nothing else to save the Union than a Southern Convention; and we believe that will. But the suggestion is our own, and for it we beg to say that neither the party we support nor any of its leading men, is in anywise responsible.

1. The debate between Stephens and Toombs before the Georgia legislature dealt primarily with the question of the process of secession. Toombs was afraid of a convention and urged the legislature to declare Georgia out of the Union. Stephens held that a state convention alone possessed the power to do so.