The Constitutional Union Party
Augusta Daily Chronicle and Sentinel, February 13, 1860
We think the formation of such a party is a necessity of the times, and while we regret, we are not surprised at, the opposition it meets with. Besides being opposed by disunionists per se, by men North and South who agree in nothing else save calling the Union a covenant with Hell, it also meets the opposition of numbers of the Republicans and Democrats, not disunionists, but who, as partisans, fear the success of the movement, and the overthrow of their own organizations. The best thing these men can do is to join the new party, and go in on the first spring flood.
Seriously, we pity the man who cannot, in a time like this, conquer his prejudices, his antipathies, his party feeling, and give himself, heart and hand to his country. That country has need of him—it needs all the patriotism and all the courage it can enlist to save it from destruction. Bad men have ruled too long, bad men have recklessly, to say the least, if not with positive evil intent, rushed the old Ship of State far out of her Constitutional course, and now, in the wild waste of waters, the tempest and the darkness are upon her, and the white waves are wreathing themselves, angrily as serpents, upon the terrible breakers just ahead. In such a crisis, in such thick-gathering gloom, who will not lend a hand to right the old ship, and to save her? In such a time, who will not cease the miserable cry of the spoiler, and join in one more strong endeavor to rescue the ark of the covenant, and to give peace and security and prosperity to our beloved land? Then, away with the doubter, away with the scorner, away with him who will not see the danger, or, who seeing, will not work to avert it.
But what kind of a Union party shall we have—upon what basis shall it be organized? These are important questions, not only as affecting the success of the party, but as to its real worth to the country, should it prove successful. of course, if it is to follow in the beaten track of the old parties—if it is to be a mere shifting, halting, ambiguous, delphic concern—it will prove of no advantage to the country, whatever it be to its own camp followers. Such a party the country does not need—it wants anything else. We love this Union sincerely; it is a sentiment with us, that has grown with us from our youth, and strengthened with our manhood. But we love justice.—We do not favor a Union party, organized upon generalities, and with the simple battle-cry of the Constitution and the Laws. We want specialities—we want nobody deceived, and nobody cheated. We want all the elements which are to compose the party to come in upon terms of perfect equality, and we want all to have a full and fair understanding of the bond of Union—of the grounds upon which we will administer the government, if we can get possession. We shall join in no cry of the Union, the Union, for the salve of the Union only, nor for the sake of party ascendancy. We wish to preserve this Union for the sake of the blessings it has conferred, and for those we hope it may still continue to confer upon our children and our children's children. With all those who may seek to enter the organization, we hope bygones may be bygones. "Let the dead bury their dead." Let no names and distinctions heretofore known among us be a hindrance to any one conscientiously seeking the salvation of his country. Let us meet as equals and friends, to overthrow those who in willfulness or ignorance have brought us to the brink of the precipice.
But what shall be the basis of the new party? In the first place it must be truly a Union party, standing on middle ground between the extremists of each section, rebuking the fanaticism of the North and the ultraism of the South. Its great aim must be to preserve the Union of these States, its becoming in fact as well as in name a Constitutional party. Not simply by unmeaning declarations of fealty to the Constitution, because all parties say that, but something more. The bond of Union must include an unequivocal pledge to maintain and enforce the laws, especially the fugitive slave law of Congress, and an unconditional repeal of all State laws which practically nullify the act of Congress, or hinder its enforcement.—In addition the party must commit itself plainly to the decision of the Supreme judicial tribunal of the land, which declares that the only right of Congress over the question of slavery in the Territories is the right coupled with the duty of extending to the owner adequate protection for his property, whenever the same becomes necessary. It must set its face determinedly against the unconstitutional heresy which clothes the creature, (the Territorial Legislature) with more power than the Creator (Congress) itself possesses, and under the specious plea of popular sovereignty, surrenders the constitutional rights of the citizens to the arbitrament of those who are not sovereigns. This doctrine of popular sovereignty is only another name for freesoil, and its advocates, wherever found are freesoilers at heart, and only deterred by fear from so declaring themselves.
The party which, in good faith and without evasion, adopts the platform above set forth, will become the real "Constitutional Union Party" of the country, whatever may be its name. And to such a party we confidently hope the entire Opposition of Georgia and the South may be rallied, with a majority of the Democracy also. Such a party, with the right leaders, we believe, can carry enough votes in the Northern States to elect its candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency. "Principles, not men" was once a rallying cry—we prefer principles and men, for there is frequently as much in the men as in the principles and it is as much a party duty to use all honorable means for success, as to maintain good principles. For of what avail can principles ever be, unless you so organize your forces as to secure their successful enforcement? Our opinion then is, that to be successful, a Southern man should be the Presidential candidate, with a Central State man for the Vice Presidency. Let this not alarm our Union friends at the North—we do not demand the first choice, but we think success depends on it, and therefore, we ask it as a concession from those who become our Northern allies.
It may be said that we are ultra as to the platform—that we ask too much. We think not, and we think this the most opportune time we ever saw to insist upon a full and final settlement. Is there one conscientious, honest, reflecting man in the North who will say we are not justly entitled to an absolute enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law? That we are not justly entitled, under the decision of our own highest Court, to protection for our property of all kinds? If so, let him speak and give his reasons. We claim to be conservative, Unionloving, law-abiding—that has been always the character of this paper, and therefore we hope our language may be heeded by our Northern friends.
It may be asked then, what ultraism and what fanaticism do we propose to fight—from what save the country? We answer that we oppose, and we wish the Union party to oppose, on the one hand that fanaticism at the North which refuses enforcement of the law, and declares no more slave States shall be admitted, and on the other, that ultraism at the South which declares for disunion in the event a Republican is elected. We oppose both of these, and we would save the country from the infatuated rule or ruin policy of those who preach such doctrines.