Dissolution and Self-Government

Indianapolis Daily Journal, December 10, 1860

The latest telegraphic dispatches from South Carolina and Georgia show that the Disunion fever still rages, with increasing violence, in some of the Southern States, where the Constitution and laws of the Union have been nullified by the progress of treasonable and revolutionary movements. In South Carolina the people seem to be actively engaged in making preparations to secede from the Union; and similar movements are taking place in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. The time for a final adjustment of these national difficulties is rapidly approaching, and they will be adjusted in accordance with the will of a majority of the people of the Republic.

The experiment of founding a great free popular government, on true republican principles, can never be tried again under circumstances more favorable than those which have surrounded the people of the United States; yet, owing to the presence of some real difficulties and dangers, and the prevalence of many groundless fears, the country, at the present time, presents a condition of affairs which cannot last much longer, and which must be terminated in one of three ways—by a peaceful dismemberment of the present Union, by a voluntary abandonment of treasonable movement on the part of certain States, or by the lawful and energetic use of the military power of the National Government. In whatever manner the impending national difficulties may be settled, those principles of free popular government which are proclaimed by the Declaration of American Independence, and by the Constitution of the United States, will continue to be the ruling political principles of the greatest Republic of the world.

Weakness, or corruption, and sometimes the clearest evidences of the existence of both of these conditions, will manifest themselves in a government where the people do not observe the laws, and where the executive authorities of the nation cannot or will not carry the laws into effect. If ever the government of the United States, on account of incurable imperfections in its nature, shall become too corrupt, or too weak, to protect the persons, the property, and all the civil and religious rights of the citizens, from the violence of mobs and the dangers of anarchy, it will then be the right and the duty of the People to alter or abolish such a government, and to institute a new one, "laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

At the present time, when the dangers of disunion and civil war have been forced upon the attention of the people of the United States, it is worse than folly to waste time in making irritating sectional threats, and recriminations concerning the origin and growth of this unnatural and critical state of affairs. What wise community, on seeing the evidences of an approaching hurricane. will stop to inquire into the causes which have produced the wind—or waste time in disputes about the exact quarter of the heavens from which the storm appears to come? And now, when apparent evils threaten to force a dissolution of the Union, even at the cost of civil war, do leading politicians act wisely in maintaining angry discussions concerning the causes which have produced these evils? To preserve the nation, and to secure the safety and freedom of the people, are among the first and highest of those political obligations which rest upon every citizen. If it be possible, let the errors and the wrongs of the past sink into forgetfulness. Let the friendship and trust of the past be remembered; and look well to the safety of the present and the future. The storm may pass away. The rainbow of promise may again appear, shining peacefully over all the States of the American Union. If the people of the United States neither expect nor desire the restoration of peace, and order, and union, between the free States and the slave States, then, indeed, the time for reason and argument has passed away. But, in any event, and under all circumstances, those great free principles which were established by the American Constitution, and which are imperishable, will be supported and extended, in renewed strength, on the American continent, until their benign influence shall accomplish the political regeneration of the nations of the earth.

Those who argue that the dissolution of our Confederacy decides the experiment of self-government adversely, take a very superficial view of the matter. The Union is not the product of the principle of self-government. One could have been formed, less complete, but probably as lasting, among as many petty monarchies if their interests were as manifestly to be promoted by it as were those of our republics. Self-government shaped the primary organizations of the people in States, and these sought strength and help in association with each other. If no Union had ever been formed, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and all the original States would have been republics. The experiment of self-government fails only when the people are demoralized sufficiently to admit that they need a better ruler than themselves, and take him, or care too little who rules them to resist an usurper. It is no failure if those who have sought mutual protection in association decide that the association does not secure the object, and leave it. It impairs the influence of their example, by cutting away the impressiveness of its magnitude, but it no more affects the principle of self-government than the cutting away of its branches affects the vitality of a tree. It looks less grand than before, but the sap in its trunk is not changed. When a man and his wife part, they may demonstrate their unfitness to live together, but they are man and woman still. Parting has not changed either into somebody else, and the mere parting of associated republics does not change either into some other form of government. The experiment of self-government does not, therefore, fail with a dissolution of the Union.