The Contest of 1860
Kentucky Statesman, January 6, 1860
The Constitution of the United States, the laws of Congress giving practical force to its guarantees and the decisions of the Supreme Court, expounding and construing the laws, have secured to slave property in the States and Territories all the protection that is claimed or needed. That Congress has no power to interfere with slavery in the States is admitted. The fugitive slave law providing for the rendition of slaves escaped into other States, perfects the remedial protection to the institution as it exists in the States. In the Territories slave property is equally well guarded against invasion. It is now decided that neither the Federal nor Territorial government has the power to interpose between the slave holder and his property, either to wrest it from him or impair his rights.—More than this, it is decided to be the duty of both these governments to secure every species of property, including slaves, all needful protection. And here arises the only political issue under the Constitution which now divides parties. It is contended that the Supreme Court have not decided it to be the duty of Congress to enact protective laws for slave property, and that the opinion of the judges upon that point was obiter dicta, and not binding as a judicial decision. We hold a different position, claiming as we do, both the right and duty of the government to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of all his rights of property. We believe the court so decided, and with that decision, the South as a section, is content. But this issue loses its practical importance and becomes an abstraction in view of the universal admission that there is no necessity for any such legislation at this time, and that slave holders in the Territories do not now ask the enactment of any laws for the further protection of their rights. And when it is further conceded, that in all probability the necessity of such legislation will never arise, and that probably the time may never come, at least not for years, when an aggrieved slave holder will go to the doors of Congress demanding the exercise of this power, this question must disappear from the arena of party politics and lose its place in political platforms.
But there are issues, and important issues outside of the Constitution, which soon must be tried, and these questions will subordinate to their consideration all others not of immediate and practical importance. The repeal of the fugitive slave law—legislation guaranteed by the Constitution—the reversal of the Dred Scott decision through the reorganization of the Supreme Court, the abolition of slavery in Territories and the exclusion of any more slave States regardless of the people, the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and in the forts, arsenals and dockyards of the United States, whether located in free or slave States, the prohibition of the inter-State slave trade and finally constant unceasing war upon the institution in the States are now the avowed purposes of the republican party, and in their solution is involved the existence of the confederacy. If the republican party, now a most formidable organization, shall succeed in attaining control of the government, its history leaves no doubt that it will undertake to carry out these purposes, and if so the whole power of the federal executive will not be able to coerce the subjection of receding States. We do not now discuss the propriety of such a course in the southern States, nor undertake to say what ought to be the result of the election of a black republican President. But we do undertake to say that in such an event we do not believe that the disaster can be prevented. The question should be treated as a practical issue and discussed with a fair estimation of what will, and not of what should ensue upon its either solution. The contest of 1860 will inevitably be a struggle between the democratic nominee of the Charleston Convention and the candidate of the black republican party, and upon the result we believe hangs the destiny of this Union. Men can not and have no right to ignore the dangers which encompass the Union, nor close their eyes to future events so closely foreshadowed in the signs of the times. It now becomes the duty of patriots, of all who love the Union and seek its continuance so to shape their course and employ their influence as to avert a result fraught with such calamity.
The clear and unequivocal presentation of this alarming issue is the prominent feature of Mr. Breckinridge's Frankfort speech, which has been published in our paper. He responds to the interrogatories of those who had requested him to define his position on the slavery question, and gives his opinion so clearly and unequivocally that none now can misunderstand it. But he then throws all such questions behind him, and moved by that alarm which the condition of public affairs and the state of feeling indexed at Washington must bring to every patriot, presents the dangers which threaten the republic, points out the calamity ahead and the only means by which it can be avoided. It is no time now to discuss abstract questions, no time now to anticipate contingencies, to wrangle about the position of men and parties when they occur. The question now to be tried comes home to the fireside of every citizen, involves the Union itself. Means must be taken to overthrow and destroy the republican party, to defeat its aspirations to power and crush it out as a political organization in the country. Its success will overthrow the government and that issue must be tried in 1860. We invite attention to this speech as embodying facts and arguments worthy the consideration of every man, no matter to which party he is attached. It is characterized by no spirit of alarm; but is calm, moderate and sincere. Let it speak for itself.