President’s Message--Its Illogical and Inconsistent Propositions

Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, December 6, 1860

The President is right in attributing the present unfortunate political and pecuniary condition of the country to the general Abolition agitation on the subject of slavery, which has been carried on in the free States for so many years. It is that which has put enmity between the North and the South, and which threatens, unless arrested, to bring disunion, universal bankruptcy and civil war. This is indeed now apparent to all men. It is equally patent that the whole agitation has been unnecessary and profitless; nay more, that it has been wicked and incendiary. It was created by crack-brained fanatics, ignorant or careless of their duty to the Government as citizens of the Union, and it has been augmented immensely by political demagogues for party purposes. The plain truth should be spoken—the people of the North must put down this party in their midst, whose only basis is hostility to the institutions of half of the States of this Union, and which has got into power upon that issue, or they will see this Union rent into fragments and utterly destroyed. No man is a good counselor who does not give this advice in the loudest tones from the house-tops. The free States must purge their statute books from all the acts of nullification which disgrace them, and which tend and were intended to defeat the execution of laws providing for the rendition of fugitives from service, if they intend to be fair and honest in their Constitutional relations with the slaveholding States.

On the all-absorbing and exciting question—that of secession from the Union—the President takes two exceedingly contradictory and illogical positions. They are:

1. A State has no Constitutional right to secede from the Union.2. The Union has no right, under the Constitution, to compel a State to remain in it.

We regard this as simply absurd. If a State has no right to leave the Union, the latter must necessarily have the right to coerce her into submission, if she pursue such a course. The framers of the Constitution put no rights in it without remedies of some sort. It would have been the sheerest folly for the framers of that instrument to forbid a State leaving the Union, and yet allow her to commit the wrong, if she was disposed, without question. The President’s reasoning that the Constitution and laws of the United States act directly upon individuals, instead of States, leads irresistibly to the conclusion that, if any number of individuals—even although they may compose a State—resist the laws or Constitution, it is the duty of the Executive to treat it as an act of rebellion. It is the most barren and idle abstraction in the world to make a long argument against the right of State secession, if it is not followed up with the corollary of coercion. All that the President says about the Union being a rope of sand, if the secession doctrine is true, applies with equal force, if his own argument is well founded. So contradictory are the President’s positions, that it looks as if the first one was written to express his own views, and the second contradictory one put in to please Secretary Cobb. Seldom have we known so strong an argument come to such a lame and impotent conclusion.

The President suggests the propriety of Congress recommending to the States as a settlement of the slavery question certain amendments to the Federal Constitution. They are as follows:

“First, an express recognition of the right of slave property in the States where it now exists or may hereafter exist; second, the duty of protection in this right in all the common Territories throughout their Territorial existence, and until they shall be admitted as States into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitutions may prescribe; third, a like recognition of the rights of the master to have his slave, who has escaped from one State to another, restored and delivered up to him; and of the validity of the Fugitiveslave Law, enacted for this purpose, together with a declaration that all State laws impairing or defeating this right are violations of the Constitution, and are consequently null and void.”

The second amendment suggested will never be acquiesced in by the free States, and it is useless to talk about it. The free States might agree that slave property could be taken into the common Territories like other property, and be there held subject to the local laws, but further than this they would not go. They would never say that the people of the Territories should protect any particular species of property that they might regard as detrimental to the public interests. The South has an exact equality with the North when it can take its property into the public Territories on a par with other property, and it must take its chances for protection, just as other property takes its chances. The President’s proposition, which is substantially that of the slave-code, is utterly inadmissible, and it will not be insisted upon by the discreet men of the South. The other suggestions national men will subscribe to.