Action of the Legislature--Action of the People
Nashville Republican Banner, May 9, 1861
The lateness of the hour at which the action of the Legislature was divulged on Tuesday, and the official documents placed in our hands, prevented us from accompanying their publication with any comment. We propose to give our views this morning in the briefest and most concise form possible.
Upon the question of arming the State, calling out volunteers and making a liberal appropriation for the expenses thereof, there will be found, we imagine, no division of sentiment among our people. All concur in the absolute necessity of this measure.
There may be some, and we have no doubt there are, who will object to the formal declaration of independence passed by the Legislature and submitted to the people—some who desire to continue, as far as any action of the Legislature or the people in their political capacity is concerned, their existing connection with the "old Union," while in reality we are in arms against that government unconditionally, and determined to resist its authority to our utmost ability, as well in behalf of the whole South, as in our own behalf. This position is too palpably absurd and untenable, in our judgment, to be long adhered to by even the few who now occupy it. No argument, it seems to us, can be made in its support, and none is necessary to show its weakness.
The next question—and the one upon which we apprehend the most likelihood of a division of the people of the State at the. June election—is as to the adoption of the Constitution of the Provisional Government at Montgomery. We have heretofore thought that that question should be left open until after the conclusion of the war, when it could be considered more deliberately, and when the character of that constitution, and its adaptation to the peculiar interests and character of the people of Tennessee and of the Border Slave States, could be more calmly and fully considered. These reasons still hold good, but the exigencies of actual war which are daily pressing more closely upon us, suggest other considerations, which, in our judgment, should outweigh all the objections heretofore urged to the adoption of this constitution by the people of Tennessee. We are out of the old Union—entirely and finally. No one can anticipate the remotest chance for a reconstruction of the whole Union, and no one now contemplates, or ever did contemplate, the permanent severance of Tennessee from the South and its Union with a Northern Confederacy. The idea of a Middle Confederacy, which by the way never met with the approval of our judgment, was based mainly upon the expectation that the Southern tier of free States, and perhaps some of the middle Free States, would become parties to it. The position of those States at this moment must dissipate this expectation from the mind of every man. This alternative is therefore effectually disposed of. Then what are we to do? Where are we to go? The opponents of an immediate political connection with the Confederate States admit that that is our inevitable destiny eventually, but they urge that events should be left to take their course, and we should content ourselves at present with a close military league. If we are to go there eventually—and no one can doubt that we must inevitably become a part of that government—why delay? Why temporize? What are we to gain? To all intents and purposes we are severed from the Black Republican Government. We repudiate and scorn and spit upon the men and the spirit by whom and by which the best government the world ever saw has been perverted into an engine of oppression to one half of its people, because they held an institution, recognized in the fundamental law, obnoxious to these Union savers. Our attitude to the Federal Union is as hostile as any action of our law makers or our people can make it. By a military league with the South we give up to the Confederacy, practically and in effect, as exclusive and full control of our destiny as by a full political connection. In the former case we are without representation in the counsels of that government—in the latter our voice and our influence will be heard and felt, and our local and peculiar interests protected.
It is objected, however, that the Constitution of the Confederate States recognizes the doctrine of secession, and therefore no consistent opponent of that heresy can conscientiously vote for it. Admit that this doctrine is recognized, and the constitution in other respects unexceptionable. In the position which Tennessee now occupies—her allegiance to the old Constitution finally thrown off, and her attitude of actual hostility to the government claiming to act under it clearly and boldly assumed—her alliance with the Confederate States openly proclaimed, and her resources taxed to their utmost capacity to make good the terms of that alliance—should she hesitate upon this single objection to an abstract principle, to make the Union with the Confederacy complete in a political sense, and secure for herself all the advantages as well as encounter all the perils and exigencies, of this change of her political status?
But what is secession, and why should its presence in or absence from the Constitution of the Confederate States influence our action? As an abstract principle it is an absurdity. It is simply to claim a constitutional right to rebel against the Constitution. It is an assumption that the framers of the Constitution made provision in the instrument itself for its own destruction, the same as though the builder of a steamboat, upon which he is to embark his family and his all, should anticipate a contingency when he would desire to see the whole establishment blown up, and should instruct the builder of the boilers to make provision for that contingency. But, practically, what is secession? Merely another name for revolution, an inherent and inalienable right which no people can delegate to makers of Constitutions or framers of governments. Tennessee is in a state of revolution. She has revolted against the Federal Union, but bases her right so to act upon higher grounds than a Constitutional right. The recognition of the right of secession, then, amounts to nothing, practically, and it is the same whether the right is acknowledged in the fundamental law of a government or not; whenever that fundamental law is perverted, and its spirit destroyed, to the injury and oppression of any part of its people, they will assume the responsibility of secession or revolution, as has been demonstrated by the recent action of the people of the South. As long as the honor, interests, happiness and prosperity of a free people are consulted, and their constitutional rights secured in the administration of the government, so long will that government exist, harmoniously, and the minority cheerfully submit to the majority. But right or no right of secession, no government can be long maintained which utterly and flagrantly disregards these important and indispensable requisities of permanency and security.
We have protracted our remarks far beyond our original intention. It will be inferred from what we have said that in our opinion sound policy and every consideration of interest, in view of the respective attitudes of the North and South, dictate that the people of Tennessee should unite as one man and give their unanimous endorsement to the action of the Legislature, as far as made public. There may be many points upon which some of us could make out strong bills of exceptions. But we should consider the position of the State—consider the moral effect of a united support of that position—and, forgetting the past for the sake of the future, out of whose present darkness we hope to speedily see gleams of light, which shall gradually become more palpable until the breaking of a perfect day—and ignoring minor differences, come up as patriots and brothers to the support of the main issue, in which all are in heart united.