A Few Words to the Opponents of "Coercion"
Cincinnati Daily Commercial, April 12, 1861
If those good people who have a fit of the trembles and cry "coercion!" whenever it is proposed to do anything toward maintaining the Federal Government, would reflect upon the consequences of an opposite course, we are persuaded that even they would find cause to change their opinions.
What is the meaning of "coercion?" What is the alternative of "coercion?" The simple answer to these questions ought to dispel forever the fears and qualms of even the most timid advocates of the policy of peace and forbearance.
What then is "coercion?" As interpreted by all the friends of the Southern Confederacy, who are also the enemies of the Federal Government, it is simply the continued collecting of our national revenue, and the continued holding of our national defences. That is the whole of it. Any charge of "coercion" brought against any act of our Government, made or to be made, resolves itself, 'when analyzed, into one of these two things.
The withdrawal of Major ANDERSON from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, in order more effectually to hold our national defences in Charleston harbor, was "coercion."—The attempt to provision and reinforce Fort Sumter, is "coercion." The defending [of] Forts Sumter and Pickens against unlawful and unprovoked attacks, will be "coercion." The collection of our lawful revenues, on shipboard, without touching the soil of a seceded State, will be "coercion." The defence or retaking [of] our national property, in the shape of arsenals, forts, revenue cutters, mints, and munitions of war, will be "coercion." The defence by force of arms of our national flag, fired into by a secession force, will be "coercion."
This is the definition of coercion, made out by those who are most clamorous in exclaiming against it. Now, what is the alternative of coercion? It is to abandon in behalf of the nation, both the right to collect its revenue, and to possess its property. It is to relinquish all idea of nationality, and recognize the right of a faction to hurry any or all the States out of the Union at pleasure. It is to surrender the national Government, its laws, constitution, authority, nay—even its very existence, at the bidding of whatever oligarchy, or anarchy, or usurpation that may anywhere choose to defy its power. It is to give up all our best seaboard defences into the hands of our enemies, who have evinced their purpose, in the clearest and most unmistakable manner, to rule or ruin the country. It is to denationalize our entire people, to demoralize their sense of responsibility to law, to corrupt their patriotism, destroy their love of country, and to deliver over our government to imbecility and contempt. It is to offer a direct premium upon rebellion and anarchy at home, and to invite insult and invasion from abroad. It is to tear down the broad banner of nationality, whose folds have streamed over us for seventy years, and trample it in the dust in the eyes of the whole world. It is to surrender ingloriously and without a struggle, all the prestige and power which the name of the UNITED STATES so lately bore, and to let treason, rebellion, and usurpation, under the triumphant lead of JEFF DAVIS & Co., have free course to run and be glorified.
This is the alternative of coercion. Friends of peace, established order and security, we now appeal to you to say, in your sober judgments, which will you choose? Will you recognize, by a tame surrender of everything at the start, not only that the Union is definitively broken up, but that what remains of it is not worth the keeping? Will you lend the sanction of your opinions to the principle, that all our national coast defences must be surrendered, because a portion, and probably a minority, of the people of one-fifth of the States, have resolved to secede from the Union, taking the Union's defences along with them? Will you sanction the audacious claim that this nation of thirty-one millions shall surrender its revenues, its defences and its national existence, into the hands of less than three millions of seceders, who are far from agreement among themselves? Will you—men of property and standing, endorse the principle that a usurping faction may dispossess a national government of its revenues and its property at pleasure? Will you concede that robbery constitutes a good title to the possession of the public property? Will you, in short, suffer it to be established as a fact, that seven States can coerce and ruin thirty-four?
For this is the whole question at last. Coercion of some kind, there will and must be. We have got to choose between the national Government's coercing the collection of its lawful revenues, and the possession of its lawful property, and its being coerced out of both, by an armed and aggressive usurpation within its own territory. The government of the nation must assert and maintain its title to that which the people have invested it with, or else it must surrender entirely, and cease to be a Government. There is no middle course for it, between governing, or submitting to be governed. It must protect itself, in the way common to all Governments, or succumb and collapse at the bidding of every "puny whipster" who confronts it with a sword.
It is too late in the day to be raising the cry of "coercion" against the exercise of the first law of nature—self-preservation. All government whatever is coercion, and has been, ever since the world began. Since when was it established as a principle in political science, that governments are not to govern, if anybody is dissatisfied, and that laws are not to be enforced unless everybody is willing? Coercion in the face of resistance to law is the first duty of a government. That is what government is for. It is to that end that the people commission it, and invest it with power; and it is not the least among the melancholy and disheartening perversions of these apostate times, that citizens whose whole feelings and interests are on the side of law and order, should be so infatuated at the mere phantom of "coercion," as to be willing to see all law, and authority, and government overthrown, and a whole nation of freemen prostrated in the dust, at the feet of a factious usurpation.