Lawlessness on a Gigantic Scale
Philadelphia North American and United States Gazette, February 4, 1861
The world must regard with profound astonishment the spectacle of national lawlessness which the southern States of this Union now exhibit. The Gulf States are large enough in area, and have a population great enough to make their follies and crimes almost national. They are now swept by a storm of rebellion such as has never been seen before. They are actuated by a spirit of resistance to law, by contempt for order, and by defiant rebellion against the entire structure which we call the United States government. It is not the election of Lincoln, or the existence of any grievance whatever, that moves them to these extraordinary proceedings, and the leaders and organs of the movement everywhere avow that they act as they now do simply because they have the will and the power to do so. They spurn the idea of obligation to assign causes for rebellion, and have only to say that they will not submit to the laws of the general government, nor ask its consent to the establishment, first, of absolute independence for each State, and next, the establishment of a confederacy of these revolted members of the old Union. In pursuance of this hostile policy, Louisiana has made haste to seize everything held in the name of the United States within her limits, and after taking forts and arsenals with impunity, has now seized the custom house and the mint. Actual war upon everything liable to violence was undertaken by the insolent band who control the power of that State, without waiting a moment to see whether a different course might not get them ultimately out of the Union they have hitherto lived upon, yet now traitorously turn upon, despise, and assail with arms.
This course of lawless outrage we do not believe to be the will or the deed of the great body of the peaceable citizens even of the Gulf States, but it is no longer doubtful that it is the policy on which alone the leaders there and the present holders of power are determined to act. This determination is also one of long standing. For many months before the late election it was deliberately planned and pre-arranged. In this purpose the democratic convention at Charleston was broken up, and, when broken up, it was known precisely what the issue of the Presidential election would be. Everybody knew that a President would be elected by the Opposition, and the arch traitors of the Cabinet set themselves vigorously to work to destroy the power of the general government, in order to insure the success of the grand revolution. Desperate and unscrupulous beyond all precedent, these men only defeated themselves by robbing too largely, and by ordering war material to the aid of traitors on a scale so unusual as to attract attention and awaken resistance. Nearly a year since, we are informed, it was exultingly claimed by many leaders of the expected movement in the South Carolina Legislature that they had the majority of the Cabinet pledged to aid the revolution, and that they confidently relied on the President not to lift a hand against it.
This case is, when all its aspects and conditions are considered, the most astounding spectacle of criminality which the civilized world has yet seen. Whatever may be its issue and end, it is now a most gigantic mass of causeless treason—of treason to law, to liberty, to humanity and to the interests of even the worst local community as well as State yet involved in it. No pretexts are offered except that the full will of a set of men cannot be gratified whose chief thirst is to open the slave trade. It is to free men from restraint whose name and character are a terror to every people of the foreign States surrounding the Gulf of Mexico—men whose raids on Nicaragua, on Cuba and on Mexico, have for years been the chief stain on the honor of the United States. These men now control the policy of a whole tier of States along the Gulf coast, and they have, as they think successfully, thrown off the restraints which the laws and government representing twenty-five millions of people in the States north of them impose. While fitting out hostile expeditions in Mobile and New Orleans against some one or other of the countries they hoped to colonize or conquer, we supposed them but an excres[c]ence which time would wear off. While pushing in new slavetrade ventures from Savannah and Charleston, we thought the palpable criminality of their demonstration would itself produce a healthy reaction. Now we find them in power in five or six States, and fostered as they have been by traitors in high place, they have risen to a height of aggregated force which it may well stagger the wisest to know how to meet.
The world must look on in amazement, as we have said, while this unprecedented drama is going forward. No revolutionist of Europe will know or recognize the horrid, misshapen monster which assumes a name honored in European struggles for liberty. Holders of despotic power in the Old World have not for centuries seen a government overthrown in order to found such a despotism as that which the ascendant party has already founded in the south. Not only is our own structure of law and order overturned, but the very foundations of all order are destroyed, to set up the violent wills of a handful of men who will rule or ruin whatever they are associated with. They revolt because they can no longer rule us of the more populous States; because the frame of the government does not provide for the possession of power by a minority. They profess no other reason in Charleston, the headquarters of treason. They spurn the idea that any special injury to slavery in South Carolina moved them. In no other State is there reserve or hesitation felt. Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana, alike entrench themselves in the vast dignity which characterized them as independent sovereignties before they entered the Union, and resume the powers they then delegated without condescending to assign a reason. It is lawlessness, in fact, it is rebellion in its worst sense, it is almost piratical defiance of the rights and peace of the whole world which actuates those who are, within the last twenty-four hours, reported to us to have seized the mint and custom-house at New Orleans, as the forts and arsenals of Louisiana, and the forts of the United States in other States were seized at various times within the past two months. A tremendous responsibility rests on this government and nation in view of these painful facts. The world outside is not alone the judge of us or our duty—the vast future, and our duty to the millions whose happiness we may guard and insure if we will, or may wreck in the greatest ruin the world ever saw, also appeal to us.