The New Confederacy

Hartford Daily Courant, April 12, 1861

Public opinion in the North seems to be gradually settling down in favor of the recognition of the New Confederacy by the Federal Government. The thought of a bloody and protracted civil war, except as a matter of absolute necessity, is abhorrent to all; and its issues may be as perilous to the victors as to the vanquished. To subjugate the Seceded States by force of arms and to compel them to remain in the Union, if it be possible, must involve great expenditure of treasure and life, and can result only in changing the present alienation into deadly hostility and incurable hate. If they remain in the Union, they must do so as peers of the other States, and not as conquered provinces.

But here a new peril meets us. Do we not by the recognition of the Southern Confederacy recognize the principle of secession? No. This principle affirms that any State of the Union has a constitutional right to withdraw from it whenever it pleases. Such a right can never be admitted. It destroys the very foundations of the Government, and would speedily reduce us to a state of political discord and weakness, in which we should admire the wretched Republics of South America, and look with envy upon the stability and good order of Mexico. The recognition of this principle is out of the question. We are not yet ready for such ghastly national suicide. But the problem remains: how shall we admit the independence of the Seceded States without, at the same time, admitting the validity of the act of secession? The difficulty is rather theoretical than practical. Secession, indeed, is to be regarded and treated as revolution, and those engaged in it as subject to all the penalties of treason. Every man who leads in such a movement should know that he puts his life within the power of the law. But here, as always among nations, considerations of public interest come in to modify, or to set aside for a time the execution of an acknowledged right. It may be best under certain circumstances to let a political criminal go free, when under others he would be summarily hung or shot. In every emergency the general welfare must determine how strictly the law shall be enforced.

Seven States have seceded from the Union. The act is revolutionary, and may justly be punished with all the severity which the crime of unprovoked revolution demands. But the movement was not checked as it might easily have been, at the beginning. The cabinet of Mr. Buchanan, if not Mr. Buchanan himself, helped on the treason. The present Administration must deal with the matter as it stands; not simply as a question of constitutional law, but, also as a question of practical politics. The forcible subjugation of these States, under existing circumstances, is not to be thought of. But it is quite another thing for the Federal Government to say to them that their act is revolutionary, and has, and can have, no validity till the other States of the Union have, in a regular and constitutional way, given their assent. Till this has been done, they stand in the attitude of rebels. Their confederacy is treasonable; their constitution, and all laws passed under it, are waste paper. They can have no real political existence till, by a solemn act, the bonds that now bind them to the Union have been legally sundered.

This we understand to be the position of the present administration. The Seceded States are, and must be, a part of this Union until an act of separation has been formally ratified. So soon as they are willing to acknowledge this, all trouble will cease. So soon as they shall recognize that there are two parties to a compact, and that they cannot with lawless violence break their constitutional obligations, there will be peace. But if they hold that a State can, by its own act, set aside all its oaths of allegiance; that it can step out of the Union as easily as a man steps out of his door; that it can any day vote itself into the legal ownership of all the federal property that lies within its limits, and take immediate possession; that it can with perfect impunity fire upon vessels, and bombard forts belonging to the Union, there will be no peace.

We believe that when it can be constitutionally done, the Northern States will be wholly willing to recognize the Southern Confederacy. But there are several preliminary steps to be taken. It must be known that those States wish to secede. Of two or three of them, at least, their willingness to leave the Union is a matter of doubt. There has been there no fair expression of public sentiment. Unscrupulous and violent men have managed to get possession of power, and have forced or beguiled many to follow them: but whether the majority of citizens recognize them as clothed with any legal authority is yet uncertain. They have not dared to permit the people to vote whether they will have the new constitution or prefer the old. Now this matter must be fairly determined. If a majority of the citizens of any of the Seceded States shall declare their desire to remain in the Union, they are not to be intimidated or forced into secession. And the Federal Government is bound to see that each of the Seceded States gives to its citizens this privilege. It is not to recognize the fact that any one of them wishes to leave the Union till its people have so declared.

Another preliminary step is, the assertion and enforcement of all constitutional laws. Till separated from the Union, they must be subject to it. They are entitled to all its privileges, and they must also share its responsibilities. They have postal facilities, they must also pay revenue duties. When once recognized as sovereign, they can arrange their affairs at their pleasure; but till then, all the States have common interests and must have a common policy.

Will the Seceded States acknowledge the righteousness of these so obvious principles, and act upon them? Upon their answer it will depend how long the civil war, which they have begun, shall continue. If they wish peaceably to secede, the way is open before them. Let them only take the proper measures; let them cease to strive to force, with grape shot and sword, the other States of the Union into a recognition of the odious and deadly principle of secession; let them act in that. spirit of moderation and wisdom that should rule in those who aspire to be the founders of great States, and all will be well. We are willing that they should go their own way, and solve by experiment the problem whether a Republic built on slavery as its corner stone, can thrive and hold an honorable place among the nations.