Burlington Weekly Sentinel, December 14, 1860
There are many words in use in our country which have different meanings in different parts of our land. The meaning of words moreover changes from time to time, and once in a while the change seems to be controlled by the parallels of latitude on the earth's surface. An instance of this is the word secession—at the head of this article—what does it mean, this word secession, which is in everybody[']s mouth nowadays? Without any attempt at a pedantic display of the original signification, as deduced from the original root of the word in ages past, we are content to take it as a word "of modern acceptation," in our modern political vocabulary. In the North [we mean thereby the States having voted for Lincoln in the late election,] it means, if we are to judge from the republican press, just nothing at all. At best, with the republicans, it means an attempt on the part of the South, to scare the North by a threat of disunion, or secession, which the republicans think, speak of, and treat as mere gasconade; a fitting theme for ridicule, jeers and sneers, on the part of a large majority of the republican press. On the other hand, the southern States, all south of Mason and Dixon's line, the press there, the politicians there, the men and the women there, give a deep, and we may say with propriety, an awful significance to the word. There, it means no more or less than a dismemberment of the United States of North America, peaceable if soon yielded, forcible if not; at any rate, and at any cost, dismemberment of the country.
The entire republican press of the North, with one or two exceptions, is criminally listless and careless about the matter, treating it lightly, as a thing of no importance, whether the great problem of self-government be solved by self-destruction or not. Without formally admitting the right of a State to secede, the republicans say, "let South Carolina go, if she wants to go, she will ask to come back soon, and then we will make terms with her as we please!" And there they leave the matter. It is the careless folly of an unthinking boy to speak so.
If South Carolina alone, or in company with other States, fails to maintain her relations, as a State, to the general government, one or two results must take place. Either she remains in the Union as a territory, and therefore subject to the regulations which Congress may make, or she goes out entirely, and the government of the United States is destroyed. From the position which South Carolina assumes, and the feeling which is there rife, it is certain that she will not as a territory peaceably submit to the jurisdiction of the general government. But the government must cause its laws to be enforced, if it is to live as a government. What then but the presence of the foulest minister of God's wrath, civil war!
Suppose South Carolina does goes [sic] out of the Union, under cover of that silly subterfuge, "the consent of parties," that establishes the right of secession, and this the republicans really yield. Without stopping to inquire what the result will be within and to the seceding State, let us look in another direction. One of the integral portions of the nation; one of the parts, which in their sum, make the Union, has gone, and the Union with all its glory, with all its high hopes, with all its power, with all its interests has gone, and stands in history as another monument of the inability of man to govern himself, under the forms of constitutional law.
If one State has a right to go out from the Union, and thus to destroy the unity and integrity of the government, what State may not go out? And what portion within any State may not secede from the State? Why may not a man declare that his farm or his house, or his shop, in Burlington, is no longer under the constitution and laws of Vermont; that he will pay no taxes, obey no process, &c., in a word, inform the world in general, and the State of Vermont in particular, that he had seceded? The right of secession exists in and under a government, as the right of suicide exists in the individual, and in no other way or manner.
Let every lover of this country, every patriot, every one who believes in the security of government, every one who has hope for the future, an interest of to-day, a recollection of the past, stop and think, and seek for light and wisdom in the sound principles of political science set forth in the writings of our earlier statesmen, and in contemplation of the vast interests wrapped up and enfolded in the glorious Union of the States of North America.