What Can You Do?

Hartford Evening Press, December 3, 1860

The dissolution of the Union in any manner or to any extent, even should South Carolina be the only seceding state, would be the just cause of profound sorrow. It would show that the great experiment of self-government for the sake of Liberty had failed, at least temporarily and apparently. It is clear that we can even now have Union, but it is not so clear that we can have Union and Liberty. The object of the Union was to secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity, and it must be acknowledged to be true as a general proposition, however much men might differ in its practical application, that the Union might be preserved by measures which would render it wholly false to its original object.

A great many men, actuated by the kindest and best motives, (we except the professional compromisers and born doughfaces) are desirous of offering some olive branch, or making some concession, or giving some assurance, they scarcely know what, that shall induce the cotton states to pause in their mad and destructive career. We should be perfectly willing to join them, standing upon no technicalities, if we could first be satisfied as to the truth and justice of the declarations to be made. But there is the difficulty. There is no use in telling lies to the South, or cheating any faction into delay and submission by pretenses which a brief lapse of time would expose.

We cannot tell Mr. Yancey that we do not believe slavery wrong, for the reverse is the profound conviction of three fourths of the whole North, all parties included. This conviction takes its birth in the best instincts of our nature and is fortified by the principles of Christianity, the teachings of the chief preachers of all ages and countries, by the teachings of legal writers, by the inspirations of poetry, by the laws of civilization. The belief that slavery is wrong is as firmly settled in the minds and hearts of the people as any article of their religious creed. It would be dishonest to say that this conviction will not remain and grow stronger every day.

Nor can we tell Mr. Yancey that we do not believe that at the foundation of our government it was the belief of the leading statesmen that slavery was discordant with our fundamental principles and destined soon to pass away and that this belief influenced them in building the constitution and in their general legislation. Indeed, the South now stigmatizes Washington, Jefferson and their compeers as abolitionists.

We must tell him that we believe that we can constitutionally exclude slavery from all the territories and put a final stop to its extension. We must say that to do this is, to all appearance, the positive, irreversible determination of a majority of the voters of the free states and that very many more wish for this result and are daily coming into the ranks of those who work and vote for it.

We must not, as honest men, refrain from saying to Mr. Yancey that the general sentiment of the civilized world is against slavery. The great fact stares us in the face and southern men have repeatedly acknowledged it. All Europe is practically abolitionized, and America must feel the influence.

And we are compelled to say that the laws of immigration, population and civilization work against slavery. It would be idiotic to assert the contrary in any compromise resolutions, in the face of the crushing contrast made by the census between the slave and free states, as to all that makes intelligent and prosperous states. No man can deny that free white laboring men, whether from Europe or the North, or the South, prefer to immigrate to free territories, nor that the free states are increasing in number more rapidly than the slave states.

We cannot deny, even for the sake of saving Yancey from treason and the gallows, that in Missouri there is a powerful and growing emancipation or abolition party, which casts near 20,000 votes where a short time ago there was not one, and has, besides, numerous adherents who chose this time to vote for Bell. Missouri will soon be a free state, and so will Delaware. We know it and Mr. Yancey knows it.

Nor can we deny that the religious sentiment of the North and portions of the South is strongly anti-slavery, has steadily grown in that direction for many years, and is absolutely certain to continue that growth. Ecclesiastical organizations may be and often are behind the real Christianity of a country, but in this case most of the churches and religious associations are unhesitating in expressing their opposition to slavery.

Have we told the truth? Who can deny it?—Then, if these things are so, to assure the secessionists that slavery shall be protected and made perpetual, and that it shall be extended and recognised as a controlling power in the Union, and that all opposition to it shall cease, would be to tell a base lie, and a very foolish lie. As well promise them that water shall run up hill and two and two shall make five.

Then shall we promise that the fugitive slave law shall never be modified? That were to make it stronger even than the constitution which can be changed at any time if the people so will. Shall we promise that the people will cheerfully catch runaway negroes? They are under some sort of an obligation to do so now but you may promise to all eternity and still the people will think it very mean business and will consider it unfair to throw a man into perpetual slavery without a jury trial. Shall we under the uplifted threat make haste to repeal all personal liberty laws?

Repeal them all and if you leave in force the sentiments, movements, tendencies, principles and moral and economical laws—in short, the facts—that we have referred to, you will have only touched the surface, done nothing at all to satisfy the disunionists. You must promise them a complete revolution in the moral and political convictions and policy of the whole North and of the civilized world. If you tell them that such a revolution is likely, you tell a falsehood. If you tell them that without it slavery can live, you tell another falsehood.

Those men who talk about the repeal of a personal liberty bill as likely to appease men who have plotted disunion for thirty years, grossly misrepresent. Not a single southern paper calls that enough. Their favorite ultimatum is the full recognition and protection of slavery in all the territories. But the real disunionists make no such condition, for they know that such a promise could not be fulfilled.—They have made up their minds that slavery cannot be supreme and perpetual in the federal Union; in that they are right; they think that they can secure that end as independent states; in that they are mistaken. Whatever is wrong will come to an end.