Done at Last--What Shall We Do?

Indianapolis Daily Journal, December 22, 1860

South Carolina has seceded. The mysterious operation was performed on Thursday at half past one post meridian. It appears to have been done "as easy as rolling off a log." If anybody has an idea of the facility implied in that phrase he can judge how easily South Carolina broke the Union. It may not be unworthy of remark that the sun rose on Friday morning very much as usual, and, either in joy or curiosity, made a decided effort to get through the clouds far enough to see the hole Carolina had left. The world moved on with no perceptible indication that it felt the "rent" the "envious" State had made in its integrity. Somebody announced it in Congress, and somebody cheered over it in Charleston, and secession was accomplished, and its terrors fairly encountered. Well, we are a severed nation. We are a divided house. And we are none the worse for it. All the mischief that the apprehension of disunion could do has been done, and disunion itself can do nothing if we do not force it to. We are well rid of South Carolina, if we are only wise enough to count it a riddance, and nothing worse. She can do far less harm out of the Union if we let her go out quietly, than she has always done in it, and can now do in double measure if she is forcibly kept in. We insist that she shall go out, and we shall thank God that we have had a good riddance of bad rubbish. South Carolina has always been a nuisance, only lacking the importance which an attempt at "coercion" would give her to be magnified into a pestilence, and we think we owe her so much gratitude for trying to leave us that we should help her on the way. If other States follow her, let them. If all the South follows her, let it. If they can't endure an association with us except on terms which ignore the vital principle of the original compact between us, and impose on us the support of slavery, we should be ashamed to ask them to stay. In God's name, and for humanity's sake, let them go in peace, live with their cherished institution while they can, prosper if it be Heaven's purpose, or within man's power, and if they ever learn that a great wrong can never be made the foundation of a great government, they may be willing, in the ruin of their hopes, to seek a refuge in the abandoned old Government, and abide there peacefully forever.

But this policy, the dictate of humanity and wisdom, as we conceive it to be, is not in favor with many warm Republicans. They insist, and quote Gov. Morton for it, that it is the duty of the nation to preserve itself, and they quote Gen. Jackson and the Chicago Platform for the necessity of preserving the Union at all hazards. They argue, and nobody ever denied it, that secession is not permitted by the Constitution, and if one State may go out all may go, and then where will the nation be? True, but oh! sagacious patriots tell us where will the nation be if you attempt to keep it together by instituting a war between its members?—How will that process save the Union? "The Union shall be preserved," you say. So say we. But we insist that it shan't be ruined in the act of preservation. We don't believe in pickling a putrifaction [sic]. The Union preserved is worth any effort, except the surrender of its vital principle. But a civil war is not preservation. It is sure, speedy, overwhelming ruin. War, instead of preserving the Union, must rend it first, and ruin the fragments afterwards. Is any man so blind as not to see that? Is any man so devoted to the idea of "enforcing the laws" and "maintaining our glorious Constitution," as not to see that maintaining it by civil war is the surest way to destroy it? The right to demand obedience of the seceding States to the Constitution they have adopted, and the laws they have themselves enacted, is indisputable. But if they can only be made to obey by fighting them the process is too expensive for the result. We can afford to do without their obedience, and without them, better than we can afford to ruin ourselves to retain either. Therefore, inconsistent, as it may appear, while we hold that the Constitution requires the chastisement of rebellious States, we hold that humanity, our own interests, and the demands of this enlightened age, require us to stay our hands. There is a higher consideration than the Constitution, and it is the good which the Constitution was intended to effect. That instrument is only a means to secure an end, a law to preserve liberty, property and happiness to all under it. If its enforcement cannot secure those objects, then it is our duty to secure them without the Constitution. Now will any man say that a war between the North and South, to enforce the obedience of the latter to the Constitution, will preserve liberty, or property, or promote human happiness? We presume not. Every man can see that it is the most direct way to destroy all three. Freedom will not be more firmly established in the North by it, and if it be established in the South it can only be by a servile war promoted by the civil war, and that is a dear price to pay for emancipation anywhere. We eagerly proclaim now that we never would encourage it, and its character will not be changed, though our feelings may be, by a civil war. There is nothing to gain for liberty then by war. And it is an insult to common sense to prove that it cannot benefit property or personal happiness. War, therefore, would enforce the Constitution, which was intended to promote these great objects, at the expense of defeating the very objects it was intended to secure. A strong government is not worth so much as peace between brethren. If the Federal Government were as strong as the Russian autocracy it would be a poor compensation for the blood, and money, and opportunities for good, lost in making it so.

The world is going to climb to a higher philosophy of government than that which underlies monarchies and grew out of "the Divine right of kings." That philosophy claims the preservation of a government as its highest duty. The nobler philosophy demands that the objects of a government shall not be sacrificed to the government; that the end shall not be lost to save the means.—And if blood is to be spilled in maintaining one government over a people, when the people want another that they believe will benefit them as much, it is blood needlessly and cruelly spilled. The statesman can always see where to draw the line between the demand of a people for a change of government and the resistance of outlaws to wholesome restraints. Kossuth gave the world a higher and nobler idea of international law, in his plea for the aid of other nations to those struggling against oppression, than it ever had before, and the United States, by wisely applying the law avowed in her own Declaration of Independence, in the present crisis, may give the world a higher idea of the duties of governments than has yet been taught by man or nation.

This view of the duty of governments, which we are only confirmed in by each new examination, shows us the course to be pursued towards South Carolina. It is to let her go freely and entirely, let loose all revenue chains and postal cords, and push her out into a separate national existence, if not with good wishes at least without resistance. Henry Stanbery, the celebrated Ohio lawyer, in his speech at the Cincinnati Union meeting last Wednesday, contended that it was easy to coerce South Carolina without bloodshed, by simply blockading her ports. He opposed coercion if it involved war, but he was in favor of bloodless coercion. This is the position of a lawyer, not of a statesman. It is not a wise policy, but a quibble. We must do one of two things with South Carolina. We must either compel her obedience, or let her pass away from our control into her own. Mr. Stanbery's plan is to enforce the laws, without enforcing obedience, to collect the duties at Fort Moultrie, or out at sea, so as to keep the South Carolinians subject to our laws, and yet keep ourselves out of their reach. This is manifestly impossible. If South Carolina pretends to be an independent government, she must control her own ports, and if we blockade them she must drive us out. It is as absolutely necessary to her national existence as the air is to individual existence. By blockading their ports, therefore, we only resort to a trick to bring the first attack from South Carolina, instead of making it ourselves.—And that trick is unworthy of a great nation. If we are right we can begin the attack, without seeking pretexts. If we are not right, we are only showing cowardice as well as cruelty, in resorting to such a trick. There is, therefore, no escape from a war, if we refuse to admit the independence of South Carolina.—Mr. Stanbery does not avoid it. He only changes the first blow from one to the other. We must, then, determine either to fight openly and at once, or openly and freely permit South Carolina to depart. If we fight her, we shall fight every State in the South.—It is idle to blink this fact. Sooner or later, by sympathy, by relationship, by business connections, by volunteers from the States above leaving fathers, mothers, and brothers at home to grow more and more indifferent to the Union as their relatives are more and more bloodily mixed up with disunion, by a thousand influences, the border States, will be drawn gradually into the fight, and before it is over the whole South will be fighting the whole North. This we regard as the inevitable result of a war with South Carolina. And a war, we believe, is a thousand times worse evil than the loss of a State, or a dozen States, that hate us, and will not stay with us without ruling us. We don't believe in standing on trifles or technical difficulties. Let us consider South Carolina a foreign nation the hour she gives the Federal Government notice of her secession, and in spite of all obstructions and questions of propriety, treat with her for an adjustment of our common debts and common property, and for the arrangement of treaties for the continuance of business. If we do so disunion will soon kill itself. If we attempt to kill it with bayonet and ball it will wound us fearfully before we can succeed, and when we have succeeded, its dead body will be as pestilent as its living body. We shall be burthened as badly to carry the corpse as to bear the restive and struggling live carcass.