Is Peaceable Secession Out of the Question?

New York Daily News, June 12, 1861

Among the many magnificent projects of the first Napoleon, he nursed a darling scheme of connecting the nationalities of Europe into a family of nations, where separate interests, though protected, should be made to subserve the general welfare, and where the aims of rulers and dynasties should be merged into the necessities of the common good. The present Emperor has thus remarked upon the anticipated results of such a consummation:

"Thus would have been accomplished the last grand transformation for our continent; and as communal interests had arisen superior to individual interests, and then interests of cities to communal interests, and interests of provinces to interests of cities, and finally, national interests to interests of provinces: so, on precisely the same principle, European interests would have ruled over national interests, and humanity would have been satisfied, for Providence could not have intended that one nation should be happy at the expense of others, that there should be in Europe only victors and vanquished, and not the reconciled and harmonious members of one great family."

Although this splendid project, emanating from the active brain of the world's greatest political genius, may appear impossible of realization from the long conflicting policies of European nationalities, yet, in the United States, tending, as we are, toward the solution of a great political problem, we may gather some useful hints from the Utopian dream of the master politician.

The United States of America, by the natural gravitation of circumstances arising from their geographical position, are connected by a further bond than that by which they entered into a community of political existence. No portion of the great basin of the Mississippi can long remain in other than intimate association with New Orleans and the natural outlet of the Father of Waters; and the Northern ports extend their credit and commercial facilities to Southern planters only in proportion as those facilities depend, to be made available, upon the cotton growth of the South. And, further, however discordant may be the elements which have interrupted for the present the equilibrium of affairs, their exists all over the country an identity of interest and feeling in relation to the broader principles upon which the Government is founded; those principles which contradistinguish ours from other nationalities, and which, despite of domestic differences, are, and must be always, rigidly adhered to in reference to foreign Powers. The Southern States, while seeking to establish a separate Confederacy, have never dreamed for a moment of departing from the theories of self-government which we have reduced to practice during our national existence. Their Constitution and their laws, in regard to all fundamental doctrines, will remain identical with those which are set forth in the archives at Washington; and supposing the separation consummated, should danger from abroad threaten either section, an instinct of self-preservation will insure unity of action for defense. Were the country in its natural condition, this community of interest would operate as naturally as the members of a living body move in accordance with the necessities of the whole.

The object, then, is to secure this natural condition, that the healthy impulses may freely act in their legitimate direction. This cannot easily be accomplished by the force of arms, whatever of triumph or defeat may ensue on either side. Should the Southern Confederacy be crushed into subjection by Northern armies, and the seceding stars pinned into the National flag with the bayonet's point, the present generation—with its remembrances and prejudices—must pass away before sectional animosities can subside. The mechanism may remain in place, but the wheels and levers will be clogged and obstinate. The stain of blood will be ineffaceable upon the bond, and the ghosts of the slain will hover in legislative halls. What, then, remains to be done? A prudent mother will sometimes give way to wayward children, that the unpleasant consequences of freaks may prove lessons for the future. One wholesome experience is a better safeguard than a dozen whippings. If no means other than civil war can bring the seceding States to their allegiance, let them have their way. Let them taste the fruits of the tree they insist on planting, and should it turn to ashes on their lips, they will be the first to root it from the soil forever. A peaceable compliance with their will would soon obliterate all traces of sectional hate. The shallow triumph of the hour past, reason would quietly resume her throne, and under her sober reign, the two sections would gravitate toward each other as naturally and as surely as water toward its level. The problem would be solved, and the absolute dependence of the States upon each other would be demonstrated for the guidance of succeeding generations. Nor would such a course arrest the progress of human liberty, or yield a triumph over our institutions to the adverse Governments of the world. It would simply prove that those institutions are so intimately linked with the will of the people, that, without endangering the broad principles upon which they are founded, people can revolutionize with the same engine by which they govern the manifestation of their will. Let it become evident to the scoffing monarchies of Europe that this experiment of separation is to be voluntarily applied by the American people to the solution of a political question—let it be proved that it involves no sacrifice of our doctrine of self-government, and the triumph is ours, not theirs. A nation that can effect the most gigantic national changes without recourse to arms, shall have advanced in legislation beyond all precedent in— the history of the world, since it will have demonstrated that its guarantees against civil war are as secure as its power to resist foreign aggression is unequivocal.