The President on the Crisis
Des Moines Iowa State Register, December 12, 1860
The message of the President is before our readers, and will be read with more than usual interest, in consequence of the Secession movements of the extreme Southern States. A feeling of disappointment will follow a perusal of the document. With that fatality and perverseness that has characterized his action throughout, he takes a course that will fail to satisfy either section of the Union.—Hardly had the reading of the document been closed, when Mr. Clingman, the Senator from North Carolina, took occasion to express his dissatisfaction with it. When the President denies the right of secession, and denounces it as revolution, he does what every patriotic citizen will commend. But, what a reflection it is upon the wisdom of the men who formed this government, to say that they have made no provision for resisting and suppressing treason. What is secession but treason, if it destroys the Union and nullifies the action of the General Government? Once let it be understood that there is no remedy for secession; that the Constitution fails to provide for its suppression; that the Union is not an inviolable compact; that one or more States may sunder their connection with it, with impunity, not so much as saying by your leave; and the bond of Union becomes a rope of sand. Any imaginary grievance will be deemed sufficient ground for imitating the example of South Carolina. We are no longer a great nation and a great power in the world, but a collection of States, banded together for temporary convenience and transient purposes, destitute of every element of strength and nationality.
But, worst of all, most pestilent in its character and effects, is the partizan spirit of the message. The arraignment of the North as an aggressor upon the South, is so atrociously inconsistent with the truth of history, as to excite profound indignation in every reflecting mind, not jaundiced by partizan passion. The message, in this respect, is a counterpart of the special message of the President on the Kansas question, delivered in the early part of his administration. Not one State in the Union has denied the right of the Slave States to reclaim fugitives from labor. There cannot be found among the statutes of any State in the North, a single law designed to nullify that provision of the Constitution, which proclaims the right of the slave-holder to his absconding chattels. The personal liberty bills, so much decried, were all designed for the protection of the rights of citizens, and to secure at least a semblance of a hearing to those whose right to themselves is called in question. Some of them go so far as to prohibit State officers from assisting in the reclamation of fugitives. But, such provisions were intended only to proclaim the settled conviction of men of all parties in the Free States, that it is no part of their business to catch the runaways of the South. Where Slavery does not exist, it is no part of the legislator's business to recognise it. When the slave-holder seeks to reclaim a fugitive from the house of bondage, the Free States say to him, "Sir, prove your property; establish your right of property in accordance with the rules of common law, and we ask no more." Is it not meet and proper that as many safe guards be thrown around the rights of the black man, as are given to secure a man's right to his dog? The answer to this is, that fugitives are sometimes taken out of the hands of southern officers, after the right of property has been established according to the forms of law. Admit this to be so, is it not an all sufficient defence, to say, that we cannot cure northern abhorrence of Slavery[?] Regarding Slavery as a great moral and political wrong, we cannot seek to eradicate that abhorrence of it, which is a part of the religious education of a free people; that education which is necessary in order to teach them how to value their own rights and to respect the rights of others. But, the slave-holder has his redress for all such accidents in the reclamation of his chattels. He can bring his action against those who interfere with him; and in many such cases has secured damages to the full value of the property lost. We have in mind now several cases in Ohio. It may hereafter be deemed advisable to make counties responsible for the results of mob-law violence in such cases. A suggestion to that effect has already been made; but it will, unquestionably, meet with strong resistance, growing out of northern repugnance to Slavery.
Had the President seen proper to glance candidly at the history of the country, setting forth the wrong doings of the South, his counsels at this juncture would have great weight. He closes his eyes to the outrages perpetrated upon Kansas by Atchison and the border-ruffians of Missouri. He has no word of rebuke for the cold-blooded butcheries in Texas; the lawlessness in Kentucky and Virginia, carried to the excess of driving out whole families from their homes; the wrongs practiced every day in some of the southern States upon men who are suspected of a want of devotion to Slavery; the deliberate exclusion of northern men from the ports of South Carolina; the shameless espionage over the mails practiced by nearly every P. Master in the Slave States; the tyranny that excludes tens of thousands from a free exercise of the right of suffrage; that strikes down the freedom of speech and of the press, and perpetrates a thousand kindred wrongs, characteristic only of an iron despotism. But, when he ignores such facts, and brings his railing accusations solely against that section of the Union with which it should be his pride to sympathise, he sinks the statesman in the partizan, and brings upon himself the contempt of honest and candid men of all parties.
In vain are the efforts of the President to induce a change in the convictions and policy of the North. In vain will he strive to educate it into new concessions to the arrogant demands of the slave power and a love of the peculiar institution. Slavery will not be admitted into Free Territory. It will not be permitted to throw its black pall over territory that belongs to free labor. The Free North will never sanction the monstrous heresy that the Constitution carries and protects slavery in the territories of the Union. The Constitution does not chattelise human beings, and no system of terrorism that the South can inaugurate will drive the free States into an admission that it does. Freemen will never resolve themselves into blood-hounds, to run down the panting fugitives who are seeking the freedom of Victoria's dominions. If such baseness and humility is the price at which the Union is to be preserved, its dissolution is inevitable; for the price will not be paid. Union, purchased at the expense of liberty, is a boon that the revolutionary patriots would have spurned; and the recent election, if it proves any thing, proves that the dictation of the slave power is at an end.—The people of the Union have asserted their rights and purposes, according to the methods prescribed by the Constitution. If the will of the majority is no longer the governing power in this country, free government is at an end. Had the Republican power been overthrown in the late contest, submission would have been regarded as a matter of course.—Shall it be otherwise because the verdict of the ballot-box is in favor of that section of the Union whose rights and interests have so long been disregarded? New concessions, will lead only to new demands and new perils.—The issue may as well be met now. The Union may be dissolved, but it will be by no act of the people of the Free States. They are loyal to the Union formed by the Fathers. They desire its preservation; and will labor and pray for it to the last. They will stand by the Constitution in its purity. They will vindicate all the rights of the States and maintain the Compromises that have been lawfully established. They will not lay the weight of a finger upon the institutions of the Southern States. But they cannot be made to surrender the fruits of the recent victory. They will stand by their platform and the men of their choice, and thus fulfil the glorious destiny of the Union, whether the cotton States are inside or out of it.
With the threats of secession ringing in his ears, and an admission that he is powerless to prevent it, still upon his lips, he counsels still the purchase of Cuba. He would tax the people of these States hundreds of millions, to purchase Territory that may secede with the Gulf States before the ink used in drawing up the bill of sale is dry upon the paper. He knows that Old Bullion declared only the sober truth, when he maintained, years since, that there was treason in the heart of the cotton States—that a Southern Confederacy has long been a darling project of ambitious men in and out of South Carolina. Yet he stands ready to further all their schemes of aggrandisement at the expense of the North, even while they are plotting their treason daily under his own eye.