President Lincoln's Inaugural
Albany Atlas and Argus, March 5, 1861
It is useless to criticise the style of the President's Inaugural when the policy it declares is fraught with consequences so momentous. Still this rambling, discursive, questioning, loose-jointed stump speech, is itself a symptom of the pending revolution and of its downward tendencies. There is as wide a difference between the State papers of a JEFFERSON or a JACKSON, and this feeble rhetorical stuff, as there is between the policy of those great Statesmen, and the rash, crude views which Mr. LINCOLN has determined to foist upon the government.
Mr. LINCOLN assumes the responsibility of revolutionizing the Federal Government and making it an instrument of force, instead of opinion. True, he asserts that the responsibility of civil war will rest with the dissatisfied States. But how? He will undertake, with the Army and Navy, to capture forts, and collect revenues, in those States; and if the people resist, they will be treated as insurgents, and will be regarded as commencing civil war!
Two monstrous propositions precede this conclusion. MR. LINCOLN assumes to represent the majority of the people; and quotes the undigested resolutions of a disreputable party gathering at Chicago, as his instructions, confirmed by the voice of the people. He was not the free choice of a majority of that body; nor in any sense, the original choice of the party it represented. And that party was itself in a minority of two to one—concentrating the votes of only one-third of the electors of the Union. This, we admit, does not impair his constitutional right to office; but it should have admonished Mr. LINCOLN to the duty of forbearance. He should have said, on accepting office: "The voice of two-thirds of the American people must be regarded as an instruction to me, to maintain the Constitution, as they understand it; as it has stood heretofore; and as the Supreme Court have expounded it; and I must surrender my personal views to such a requisition."
On the contrary, he declares: "The minority have given me power, and I will use it against the majority. I deny the authority of the Supreme Court to bind me by their decision. I will disregard it. I will use military force against the dissatisfied States; and the responsibility of Civil War will rest upon the insurgents who resist."
It is he that is the nullifier. It is he that defies the will of the majority. It is he that initiates Civil War.
Never was a man so little competent for such a task. Never were means devised so inadequate to the proposed ends.—Never did the head of a State challenge a trial to bloody conclusions, who was destined to so ignominious a retreat.
But we will not anticipate the future.—The bewildered man had the path of peace before him, and yet has chosen to take the bloody warpath whose end he knows not, but which all men know, can never be tread with honor, or even retraced, by footsteps so unsteady as his. We see the evil beginning; but we fear we shall not have long to wait to behold the inglorious ending.