What True Conservatism Demands of the South

Daily South Carolinian, December 2, 1860

There never was a grosser misapplication of any term than that of "conservatism," as now used by a large number of individuals both North and South. When a Northern Republican catches the sound of a Southern submission voice, he calls it a "conservative" sound. When a Southern man deprecates the active measure now going forward to save the South from destruction, he contradictorily calls it conservatism. These men are misled, in the Northern instance, by their desire to conserve their power. In the Southern instance, they blindly yield to a sentiment which has grown upon them, and which prostrates them as mere worshippers at the feet of the Union idol. They reason not, they see not. Down upon their knees, with face in hands, and hands upon the ground, they will not see, they will not contemplate the dangers that threaten them—but can only shout "Union, Union," when their more practical and observant brethren shake them by the collar and warn them of inevitable ruin. And this they call "conservatism." There never was a grosser misapplication of a term. The spirit of conservatism is of all others the most practical and the least given to sentimentality. It is ever watchful, ever judicious, prompt to change or even destroy accustomed forms, when necessary, and always ready to remove rottenness, either to the extent of total subversion or total reconstruction. It is a spirit the least apt to cling to empty forms after the substance has departed. Yet this spirit, it is claimed, still admonishes acquiescence in the dangerous circumstances which now surround the South, and which have been growing up so unceasingly and steadfastly that even in 1832 Mr. Calhoun, with undisguised surprise, remonstrated with those who charged him with being too impatient and precipitate. From then to now, a false idea of conservatism has been crying against the precipitancy of those who would have preserved alike the spirit and the form of the now disintegrating Federal Government, and though with feeble articulation, since the spirit has passed away, yet it still clings to the putrid form. With all their senses enervated by the deadly effluvia of the corrupt form, many realize nothing of danger, but linger only over the beauty and comeliness that once dwelt there. And this they call the spirit of conservatism. Many of us may have stood too long around the old form, still hoping that constitutional life was not yet gone. But since it has hopelessly departed, it is dangerous to tarry near it. Every instinct of conservatism prompts us to get away from it as soon as possible. To linger is suicide and parricide. It is death to us, our country and its institutions. It is painful to see others yet hesitating, under the fatal delusion that there yet is hope. In the name of conservatism, they call upon us to make one more effort to revive the rotten carcass. But our conservatism prompts us to turn a deaf ear to their entreaties. They call upon us not to drag them from the infectious body, to remain yet a while with them, until they all can co-operate in departure. Our conservatism tells us that it is destruction to breathe longer the dangerous atmosphere; it tells us that those who wait are now under its weakening influence—that if we remain it will steal, too, upon our senses, and all of us will thus be involved in one common death. We cannot linger either in hope of new life, nor can we wait for all to co-operate. The penalty of death is affixed to either course, and the demands of a true, practical and unsentimental conservatism urges those who are ready, to get away each for himself by the shortest and speediest way. But we go further, not only is this the demand of the spirit of true conservatism—but the refusal to comply with it would be criminal. We are responsible for any idolatry we may be given to. This blind devotion, this obedience, not only to a sickly, but a deadly sentimentality, destroys our senses, and, if, under its influence, we fail to look calmly at surrounding events and thus are carried to fatal conclusions, the sin is our own. Such a recreancy to truth must bring its punishment on every nation whose people are guilty of it. It is this sentimentality—miscalled conservatism—that has arrayed opposition to every reformation or revolution, either religious or political, recorded on the pages of history. It behooves us all, then, to look at these grave issues of the day without regard to the associations of the past; sentimentality must be thrown aside as an unsafe pilot, and truth, reason and observation be accepted as our guides. Whatever decision they pronounce let us execute sternly, promptly and effectually. Let not the glories of the past divert us from, but rather stimulate us on to, the duties of the present. If the achievements of our fathers are objects around which our pride loves to linger, let us take care, lest by our own incompetency to meet the demands of the crisis, we disinherit our children of the same pleasure. Let us remember that their practical spirit of conservatism prompted them to sever forever the bands that united them to an oppressive mother country, and that this act of severance we cherish as the brightest in the history which they bequeathed us. They then asserted self-government as necessary to a conservation of their rights, and we are now invoked by the same spirit of conservation to dissolve our present political Union, in order to retain that inheritance of self-government.