What Is the Peril?

Louisville Daily Journal, November 8, 1860

The intelligence now received at this point leaves no room for doubt that a clear majority of the whole number of Presidential Electors chosen by the people of the United States last Tuesday are Republicans and that accordingly the Electoral Colleges will on the day appointed by law choose Abraham Lincoln President. To all real intents and purposes Mr. Lincoln is at this moment the President elect of the United States. Mr. Lincoln's election is a fact accomplished.

We have prayed fervently against this event, and we have worked against it with every energy in our natures strained to the utmost; its occurrence fills us with sorrow and anxiety. We have deprecated it earnestly, and we now most sincerely deplore it. Yet we do not on account of it despair of our country; and least of all do we intend by reason of it to abandon her in any crisis the unhappy event may bring with it. And in this hopeful and dutiful resolution we know we have the sympathy and concurrence of every genuine patriot North or South. But how shall this resolution be carried into effect? In what manner can the true lovers of the country serve her most efficiently in this critical time? What ought patriots to do? It appears to us that the answer to this question is plain. Patriots ought to stand loyally and patiently in the Union under the Constitution and wield the might of the one and the checks and balances of the other to protect both. Why may this not be done? Why ought it not to be done?

What is the peril? And whence does it arise? The peril is, on the one hand, an infraction of the Constitution, and, on the other, a disruption of the Union, in anticipation of such infraction. It arises, in the first relation, from the deplorable event which occasions this inquiry, and, in the second, from the belief prevalent in a certain State or in certain States of the Union that the event under notice is a sure and infallible precursor of the infraction of the Constitution. Now, if it can be fairly shown that this event, grievous as it may be, is not an unerring precursor of the infraction of the Constitution, but, on the contrary, that the infraction of the Constitution in the mode anticipated cannot possibly follow the event, if the checks wisely provided by the Constitution itself shall be brought into exercise, why, then, the feasibility and the duty of protecting equally the Constitution and the Union in the one and under the other are of course perfectly manifest. And this can be fairly shown. It has been fairly shown time and again in the course of the last four or five months. We ourselves have shown it repeatedly. Indeed, the truth is a very apparent one.

We may in a day or two present this subject in a broader point of view, but for the moment we content ourselves with putting it practically in the briefest form. The first thing Mr. Lincoln will have to do after his inauguration is to appoint his Cabinet. But he can't do this without the concurrence of the Senate, which is politically opposed to him, and which clearly may so wield its discretion that the Constitution shall receive no detriment or reproach in this initial act of the new President. His next step will very probably turn out to be the appointment of ministers to foreign nations or home officers in some one or all of the Federal Departments. And here too the consent of the Senate is necessary and the same constitutional check may again be brought into salutary and efficient exercise. If, with a Cabinet of temperate views at his side, and with a full set of conservative representatives at home and abroad, which we have seen the Senate has the power to compel, he should proceed to recommend the enactment of an unconstitutional law adverse to slavery, and his political friends in either branch of the Legislature should introduce a bill pursuant to his recommendation, the branch in which the bill should be introduced, no matter which branch it might be, would reject it, since both branches are Anti-Republican. Here is the double check of the Senate and of the House of Representatives harmonizing in opposition to Mr. Lincoln's political views. No unconstitutional bill adverse to slavery could overcome this check and become a law. If it should, however, the barrier of the Judiciary rises next, as pure as the white summit of some snow-clad peak and as insurmountable. The Judiciary would declare the law void and it would be void. If, foiled at all these points, Mr. Lincoln should in some other direction commit high crimes and misdemeanors, the Anti-Republican House would impeach him, and the Anti-Republican Senate would try and convict him, which would be the last of him. Thus we see that Mr. Lincoln is on all sides at the mercy of his opponents sheltered in the forms of the Constitution. He is powerless for the evil apprehended at his hands. He could not infract the Constitution if he would. His election gives rise for the first time in our history on a considerable scale to one of the very exigencies contemplated by the framers of the government in the distribution of its powers and which these framers believed the distribution they made was entirely adequate to meet successfully. We believe they were not mistaken. At any rate we are willing to give their great handiwork a fair chance.

And we do not doubt that all other real friends of the country are also willing to do this. It is plainly the solemn duty of us all to do it. But it is not the whole of our solemn duty in this crisis. We must protect the Union as well as the Constitution, and, whilst wielding the checks of the one in its own defense, we must wield the might of the other for its own preservation. We must not only counteract Republicanism but quell disunionism; we must curb Yancey and Rhett at the same time that we check Lincoln and Seward, or as much sooner as the curb may be necessary. It is not enough to guard the Constitution against infraction; we must with equal vigilance guard the Union against disruption. The Union and the Constitution must be preserved. The maintenance of both intact is now the high task of American patriots. Let us invoke them to the vigorous performance of this task. We call on them in the name of duty and of interest alike to perform it. Not merely patriotism but religion summons them to the grand work. Let all obey with heart and hand. Union men of the South and of the North, comrades in the disastrous struggle of Tuesday, and in many another of equal fate, we appeal to you with special trust and pride in this emergency. We must not part. We again have lost the way, it is true, but we have still a country worthy of our love, and imploring our protection. By all the stirring memories of the past, by all the proud associations of the present, and by all the glorious hopes of the future, let us love her and protect her still. For such a country as ours it is sweet to fail. But we shall not fail another day.