Reconstruction by General Secession
Boston Daily Advertiser, April 1, 1861
The idea of reconstructing the Union by a sort of general secession and agreement to the Montgomery Constitution, when first proposed, strikes the mind of every one as too monstrous to be seriously entertained. It appears to us in the same light, we may add, after a tolerably careful consideration, and we have therefore been slow to believe that it could recommend itself to anybody not an actual confederate with the secessionists. We are forced to conclude, however, by a variety of indications, that the way is being prepared for some movement which shall make the Montgomery instrument the basis of adjustment, and that the friends of the present Constitution will have to meet this issue at last. We apprehend that it will be presented by an active if not a strong party, and enforced by appeals to the general love of Union, and by assurances that the Constitution of 1787 is now lost, and that the substitute is the only possible basis on which we can expect to secure the substantial blessings of peace and regulated liberty.
It is hardly necessary for us to argue how complete an abandonment of honor and of hope for future harmony is implied in this scheme, whatever artful disguises may be used to conceal its real nature. We now wish to point out that for those who can make up their minds to forget honor and right and our duty to those who come after us, the scheme is not after all so very unnatural. Especially for those who gave their adhesion to the plan wrongly called Mr. Crittenden's, this new step in abasement does not appear to present any very great difficulties, for the reason that, after all, the Montgomery Convention went no farther in providing for slavery than that plan went. Indeed, that Convention placed the prohibition of the slave trade in the Constitution itself, while the Crittenden compromise was satisfied with a mere resolution by Congress,-in addition to which the latter undertook to deprive the African race of the right of suffrage or of holding office, while the former did not.
The Montgomery Constitution, however, in its general treatment of the subject of slavery differs but little from the Crittenden compromise. It makes slavery the normal characteristic of all territory now possessed or hereafter to be acquired, and imposes upon Congress the duty of protecting it; it secures the right of transit and sojourn with slave property, and rejects the euphemism by which direct reference to slavery was excluded from our present Constitution. In all this the Montgomery schemers have not gone a whit beyond the framers of last winter's plan, but have merely undertaken to make the Constitution more homogeneous and more clear, than the adoption of that plan would have made it. It is hardly necessary even to have recourse to the adage, that "it is as well to be hanged for an old sheep as a lamb." The Montgomery Constitution, wherein it differs from the Crittenden compromise on the matter of slavery, is not the worse for the difference, and requires no more violent effort to make it acceptable.
The changes proposed at Montgomery in the ordinary working of our government, the change of the President's term to a single term of six years, and other alterations, would not be likely to be the subject of serious difference at any time. The prohibition of protective legislation and of appropriations for facilitating commerce, simply express long standing democratic doctrines. There remain then simply two objections to the Montgomery Constitution, for those who regard a complete surrender to treason as honorable, or an entire abandonment of principle as right. The new instrument expressly rests upon the action, not of the people, but of State sovereignties, and reduces the general government to a mere league. In this, however, it simply conforms to the doctrine practically approved in the present crisis by the democratic party. It also makes slavery the corner-stone of the institutions established by it, as was distinctly explained by Hon. A. H. Stephens to the satisfaction of every one. But as it does this simply by adopting the construction which the democratic party has already placed upon the Constitution, and which was expressed in the Crittenden compromise, we confess that it does not seem altogether strange to us that those who have swallowed the one should make no wry face at the other. "It is the first step that costs." One wing of our democratic friends and some who do not call themselves democrats took that first step some time since. We need not wonder, therefore, if before long they set forward with some vigor upon the path to Montgomery.