What Should Georgia Do?
Augusta Daily Constitutionalist, November 16, 1860
The most inveterate and sanguine Unionist in Georgia, if he is an observant man, must read, in the signs of the times, the hopelessness of the Union cause, and the feebleness of the Union sentiment in this State. The differences between North and South have been growing more marked for years, and the mutual repulsion more radical, until not a single sympathy is left between the dominant influences in each section. Not even the banner of the stars and stripes excites the same thrill of patriotic emotion, alike in the heart of the northern Republican and the southern Secessionist. The former looks upon that flag as blurred by the stain of African slavery, for which he feels responsible as long as that flag waves over it, and that it is his duty to humanity and religion to obliterate the stigma. The latter looks upon it as the emblem of a gigantic power, soon to pass into the hands of that sworn enemy, and knows that African slavery, though panoplied by the Federal Constitution, is doomed to a war of extermination. All the powers of a Government which has so long sheltered it will be turned to its destruction. The only hope for its preservation, therefore, is out of the Union. A few more years of unquiet peace may be spared to it, because Black Republicans cannot yet get full possession of every department of the Government. But this affords to the South no reason for a moment's delay in seeking new guards for its future safety.
Such is the reasoning of cool-headed men in Georgia, who were a few days ago among the most conservative of Unionists. To them, therefore, any line of policy will commend itself, which is in the direction of preparation for the coming change. In this view the policy of retaliatory measures, as advocated by Gov. BROWN, is entitled to consideration and approval. The particular measures, themselves, recommended by him, are not in all respects politic or right, and one of them is especially reprehensible. That one is the repeal of so much of the Penal Code as gives protection within our borders to the "lives, liberty, and property of citizens of other States which have, by their legislation, practically nullified the Fugitive Slave Law."
Apart from the manifest unconstitutionality of such a proceeding, it would be obnoxious to the moral sense of the Christian world. It would introduce among us untold horrors of mob violence and brutal outrage upon unoffending people. It would put Georgia behind China, and on a par with savage tribes in barbarous cruelty to strangers. It would countenance atrocities as bloody as the massacre of Christians by the Druses in Syria. The proposition is sweeping in its terms, and would embrace men, women, and children. But the proposition is, no doubt, designed to frighten off the dangerous emissary of murder and robbery from the offending States—not to be literally enforced upon the innocent sojourners among us, thus indiscriminately put under the ban of outlawry.
For the retaliatory measure suggested in his message there should be more favor. The seizure of property by way of reprisal, and discriminating taxation as a penalty for bad faith, can be sustained on principles of justice, of reason, and of international law. But they are entitled to consideration, and will receive it from the people of Georgia, for a different purpose to that intimated in the message. The recommendations of the message are in a Union spirit, and with a view to preserve the Union. The Governor says:
It is believed that the legislation above recommended would tend to strengthen, rather than weaken the ties of Union between the States generally; as it would do much to destroy the sectional character of the controversy now pending between the free and slave States; and to narrow the issue to a contest between whole sections of the Union.
Too late! too late! is the plain, emphatic reply to this. The time was, when it was not patriotic to despair of the Republic. The time has come when the indulgence of hopes for its preservation is apt to delude the imagination and blind the judgment. The "ties of Union," if by the term is meant ties of fraternal sympathy, can never again be strengthened, for they no longer exist to bind the two sections together. They are broken—utterly sundered between portions of the South, and portions of the North. The antagonism amounts not simply to aversion, but to bitter disgust and hatred. While the Union lasts, as it may, for two, three, or four years longer, it will be a Union of necessity and of temporary convenience. It will continue only long enough to enable the southern States, whose people are resolved upon secession from it, to make such arrangements as a prudent, far-seeing, and practical people ought to make, for so radical a change in their political destinies. The Governor proceeds:
The acknowledgment of the fact that one State has the power to protect herself against the unconstitutional and aggressive legislation of another, without the aid of the other sister States, and without disturbing her relations with them, not only destroys geographical lines of division, drawn across the Union, and localizes the controversy between individual States, but makes each State pay a more just regard to the rights of every other State, in view of the fact that she cannot look for protection in the wrong, from her other sister States of her own section of the Union, whose sense of justice as well as interest under the proposed legislation would prompt to a consummation of her bad faith, and her unconstitutional enactments.
Again, rises up the response: Too late! too late! What was once a hopeful prospect, and might have been achieved by the legislation suggested, is now a Utopian dream. In the patriotic views of His Excellency, the retaliatory legislation here urged would be operating as a depleting process, to cool the blood and relieve the frenzied brain of northern fanaticism, on the one hand; on the other, as an emollient plaster to soothe the fierce irritation of southern ultraism and disunion. The remedy might have made some impression a few years ago, when it was advocated in these columns and elsewhere in Georgia. But now the remedy comes too late. The disease is too deep seated. The election of Mr. LINCOLN to the Presidency, gives a tremendous onward impulse to anti-slavery sentiment. So far from the possibility of its being induced to recede, its steps are now nerved with new energy, and soon its arm will be clothed with the huge power of Executive patronage—a power that permeates through every nook and corner of the land—a power exercised not less by seductive persuasions than by the intimidations of authority—a power not felt alone in populous cities and at commercial points, where wealth and commerce concentrate—but felt along the far stretching highways of travel, and in remote recesses, wherever a government contract is to be awarded, or a government soldier is marched. What army, flushed with long wished for victory, after many years of toilsome struggle and reverses, ever stopped its onward march when on the very threshold of most tempting plunder?
Some of the southern States see, in the tremendous popular majorities which have elevated LINCOLN to the Presidency, the huge mountainous waves that are beating down on the South with resistless force, and if she supinely waits for the deluge, must engulph the whole social system of the South in the relentless waters of anti-slavery fanaticism. With them the question is, secession from the Union, and a self-defending, homogeneous southern Republic, or submission to the Union, and the fate of Jamaica and St. Domingo.
The conviction that this is the issue is ineradicable. No soothing words, or honeyed promises, from the lips of Mr. LINCOLN himself can up-root this conviction. He rides a wave he cannot control or guide to conservative results, even if so disposed. Or if he should, for his short term of office, check its destructive tendencies, this very restraint will give new strength to its pent up fury, and it will carry into the same office, four years hence, a man of more revolutionary ideas.
Whether these apprehensions be well or ill founded, is now of small practical consequence. They sufficiently possess the minds of a majority of the people in several southern States to render a dissolution of the Union inevitable. It is now a question only of time.
The Governor, in immediate connection with the last quoted sentence, says:
I am no disunionist per se; and would delight to contemplate our future glory as a nation, could I have the assurance that the Union, upon the basis of the Constitution, would be as durable as the hills and valleys embraced within the vast territorial limits of its jurisdiction. This cannot be the case, however, unless each section of the Union accords to every other section, the full measure of Constitutional rights.
The writer cordially responds to this sentiment. But how futile the hope that each section of the Union will accord to every other section the full measure of its Constitutional rights. Is it within the bounds of a reasonable hope that Massachusetts will do this—or Vermont, or Maine, or New York? In short, in what northern State are those indications even of a conservative element, potent enough to regain the surface, and counteract the dominant influence which has so recently overwhelmed it?
The retaliatory measures of the Governor will not now work as panaceas to restore the Union to healthful action, and re-unite its sundered ties. But they may so work to prevent further outrage upon the persons of our citizens traveling North, to reclaim their slaves; to prevent further depredations upon that species of property by the underground railroad.
This policy will operate in a way to diminish the dependency of our people upon northern looms, foundries, and workshops, and teach them the wisdom of encouraging their own artisans and mechanics. It will prepare our people for the great change which is ahead in their governmental affairs, and render them, whether for peace or for war, more self-reliant, more efficient, more prosperous.
Such results are not accomplished in a day, nor in a year. An individual involved in complicated business engagements cannot change his pursuits and his locality in that time without serious detriment. A man setting up in housekeeping requires time to make his arrangements, and to equip his establishment. A community, however small and homogeneous, requires time for thought and preparation in inaugurating an enterprise, however peaceful and, unopposed, which may involve outlay of money, interruption of business connections, and new schemes of polity. How much more important, then, is time, deliberation, and the amplest preparation, to an agricultural people like those of Georgia, in the contemplation of the question of change of Government. There is no goad of necessity urging them to precipitate themselves out of the Union. The necessities that will force Georgia out of the Union are plainly foreshadowed in the distance, and can be contemplated in all their bearings. But they are not immediately at hand. They are at least two years off. Until the Black Republicans obtain control of the legislative departments of the Government, which they cannot do earlier than two years from the 4th of next March, no encroachment on the Constitutional rights of Georgia, as specified in her platform of 1850, is possible. Therefore, her honor and her obligations to her sister States, and to her own fame, do not require her secession short of that period. The precipitate action of South Carolina might drag her unprepared into disunion, but such conduct would meet with deserved protest from the best citizens of both States.
If she were ready to go out at an earlier day, we would not question the wisdom of her acting more promptly. If she were in a condition to secede to-morrow, and could do so without very great injury to important interests and investments, we would, from the reluctant convictions of our judgment, be an advocate for immediate secession. The hopelessness of preserving the Union has made disunionists, since the election, of thousands of Conservative and Union men. The necessities of the times, not of their seeking, but in despite of their solemn warnings and protests, have made it imperative with prudent men in the South, to seek new guards for their future security.
But immediate secession would be injurious to all, and disastrous to many interests in Georgia. Yet Georgia could secede with as little detriment to her immediate interests, and to her permanent prosperity, as any other southern State. The fact is they all require time and preparation for so important a step—the Cotton States not less than the border States. The precipitate rush of one State out of the Union, when no others were ready to join, or to follow, would be destructive to that State—injure her sister southern States—strengthen the cause of the common enemy, and give him an advantage not easily regained. In fact, a State so acting would defeat her own purposes, bring upon her people a lifetime of embarrassments and regrets, and render difficult the peaceful inauguration of a southern Republic, whether composed of five States or of fifteen, powerful and wise enough to be treated with as an equal by northern Republics, and by foreign monarchies, and rich enough to make treaties of commerce with her desirable to all nations.