The Indissoluble Union
Philadelphia North American and United States Gazette, November 20, 1860
No one, up to the hour of the present outbreak, would have credited the statement that at this late day the principles on which the union of these States was formed would require defence or elucidation. It was not more the act of the States than the irresistible impulse of the whole body of the people that originally formed the Union. The laws which draw them together can never become inoperative or inapplicable, because the same ties of nationality, the same geographical association, and the same primary interests forever remain. This is not a loose federation of States of diverse races, and having such diverse interests that they are not bound to remain together longer than the whim lasts them. It is an indissoluble political union, because there is nothing powerful enough to part a country in the middle, separating families and kindred, and substituting for the insensible lines of States the barriers that distinct nations set up.
In the doubt which prevailed as to the political future at the time of separation from England, the loose federation system was tried, and was deliberately repudiated after a very short trial. The Union then formed was a wholly different thing, the States were asked to adopt it for all time, and were denied the option of choosing it for a few years only. An indissoluble Union was inevitable, one which, while it would cement us in a body having no thought of boundary lines in our business or social intercourse, would still preserve those distinctions of local legislation which would conform to whatever diversity of local interests and local opinions should exist. It is marvellous that any considerable number should now undertake to deny the great facts of that historical time, and to overturn the majestic structure which the advancing civilization of the age erected.
It is impossible to overturn our political system. It is impossible to break up the Union and revert to the colonial federative system. National barriers, with custom houses, police, and armed men, can not be stretched across this country anywhere, for there is not a line in it intended by nature for a boundary. What idea have we of public property that is not in common? We cannot entertain the idea of dividing the public buildings, of distributing their value among retiring States, or of holding them after a portion of the original Union has gone out. There is no basis or precedent for the negotiations which it is said that some commissioner from South Carolina intends to undertake in a mission to the foreign city-to him-of Washington.
The utter absurdity of the entire schedule of foolish intentions respecting "separate State action" becomes apparent when the very first step in negotiation between the respective powers is undertaken. The very proposition to negotiate is inadmissible. Neither the President nor Congress can utter a word in such a case, because neither has authority to consider such a case except as rebellion, or internal resistance to law. The people must meet in general convention to say whether the old basis of this national Union can be reconstructed, and Congress be empowered to legislate and the Executive to treat, with a part of our own body which has set up for itself.
The principle with which the secessionists open their case is thus an impossibility while this government stands. To admit their first claim is to upset the whole body of our national theory of government. Complaint on the part of any State is, or may be reasonable, and remonstrance, urgent representation by deputation, and possibly in extreme cases temporary resistance to oppressive laws, may be tolerable and necessary. But all this is conformable to the principles of our system, as well as according to reason and to law. Secession is the very antithesis of this, and almost as much a burlesque of legality as it is absurd in respect of sense. It is revolution against the authority set up originally by the very revolutionists. It is like the declaration of independence on the part of a county against a State, or by a township against a county. Perhaps the parish of St. John's, Berkeley, or of St. James', Goose Creek, may declare that the rule of South Carolina State is no longer endurable, and instead of undertaking to obtain justice in regular legislation, may secede, and arm its population for resistance. The upper counties of most of the southern States have a decidedly different opinion from the lower counties as to many questions of public policy, local and general. Shall the mountain counties secede because of the strain of differing interests which annually agitates North Carolina and Virginia? Shall the Pan Handle, a spirited if not a large section of our common country, and now attached to the State of Virginia, fly off in dudgeon because of taxes levied to pay for Gov. Wise's military expeditions? We have heard of no such intention, yet we are compelled to say that a dozen instances of injured counties and oppressed parts of States exist, far more deserving sympathy and assistance than anything in the relation of South Carolina to the Union.
The inadequacy, the painful inadequacy, of conception of their case on the part of those who threaten secession scarcely permits the grave refutation which might have been made in the early years of our history. They attack the massive and colossal strength of the political systems under which they live in the spirit of a township feud. They would subvert the institutions which are the pride and glory of the age, not in a deliberate and dignified manner, as becomes so great an act, but with passion, with enthusiasm of the small and local sort, and with merely childish accessories of means and of men. It is difficult, under these circumstances, to bring ourselves to the great work of declaring anew the character of the most imposing, powerful, as well as the most beneficent, form of government devised since the world began, and we earnestly hope the necessity to do so may not be forced upon us by any greater gravity of the case that now pains and mortifies us.