What Is Coercion?

Nashville Republican Banner, March 14, 1861

All who deny the right of secession are forced to admit that the secession ordinances of the revolutionary cotton States are void. These States are, in contemplation of the Constitution and the laws, still members of the Union, and the Federal Constitution and laws are still binding upon their people. Whoever, therefore, understands himself, and is not a disunionist or secessionist per se, is bound by his own principles to approve the position taken by Lincoln in his Inaugural Address, upon the subject of the enforcement of the laws of the Federal Government, because these positions are the inevitable sequences of the non-existence of secession as a constitutional right. And mark how carefully he has defined and limited the exercise of the constitutional duty of enforcing the laws. First, the laws, he declares, shall be enforced, "as far as practicable," and of course in all these States in which, by reason of hostility to the Federal Government, their enforcement has become impracticable, there will be no effort to enforce them, since Lincoln declares that strangers will not be appointed to fill the Federal offices in these States, and that the Federal Government will assault no one. No duties or imposts upon the importation of goods from foreign countries can in any Southern port be collected, without a Revenue Collector in such port; and as Lincoln announces that he will appoint no stranger to such offices in such localities, and as no resident of such States will accept such offices, the revenues will not be collected in those ports or any of them. There remains only two other modes in which they can be collected upon goods imported into this country. First, by vessels stationed outside of the ports in those States, and second, by their collection in the ports of other States, by refusing to recognize the validity of clearances from any foreign port to the ports of the revolutionary States, and the consequent shipment of foreign goods to the ports of those other States. The President has no power to adopt the first of these modes of collecting the duties or imposts upon the importation of foreign goods, and if he had, the mode is impracticable, as ships for the purpose could not, by reason of winds and storms, be at all times kept upon the stations near the entrance of the ports of the revolutionary Cotton States. But, if it were practicable, it would be no coercion of any State or its citizens. It would simply be a legal regulation of the trade between the United States and citizens of foreign States, who might import goods into the United States. The second mode is a practical one, of collecting the duties or imposts upon foreign goods without any interference by force on the part of the Federal Government with any State, or its authorities, or citizens. If any State excludes the Revenue Officers of the Federal Government from its territories, and thereby renders the collection of the revenue from duties or imports upon foreign goods impracticable within its borders, it is certainly legitimate for the Federal Government, for the purpose of avoiding collisions and civil war, to refuse to recognize the validity of clearances of goods from foreign ports to ports within such States, and by notifying foreign Governments and their citizens to cause these goods to be brought to the ports of other States. The Government, Lincoln says, will hold, occupy and possess its forts and public property, but it will assault no one, and if a civil war shall arise those dissatisfied with the government must be the aggressors. The collection of the revenue, the holding of the forts and public property, and the enforcement of the laws as far as practicable, need not be attended with violence and bloodshed, and as far as in his power there shall be no violence or bloodshed. Surely there never was a Government and its Chief Executive which evinced such a strong and decided determination to enforce its laws in such a manner as should, if possible, avoid all collision with dissatisfied States and citizens. And yet there is a persistent effort on the part of the allied faction of revolutionists, in and out of the Union, to induce the people of Tennessee to believe that the "Constitutional defence and maintenance of the Union," is coercion. The people have common sense, and their common sense enables them to understand that when a faction endeavors by armed force to take the forts of the Government, it resorts to coercion of the Federal Government; and the resistance by the Federal Government of such attempts is simply self-defence; that the faction which excludes all Federal officers from the Revolutionary Cotton States, and thus prevents the execution of the Federal laws and the collection of the Federal revenue, uses coercion against the Federal Government; and that the Federal Government in collecting its revenue by refusing to recognize the validity of clearances of goods from foreign ports to any ports in the revolutionary States, is only acting in self-defence. But this faction in Tennessee insults the understandings of the people, by asking them to believe that all the acts and proceedings of its allied faction in the revolutionary Cotton States, are and will be the acts of peace and gentleness, and that if the Federal Government shall resist any of these acts and proceedings of its allied faction in these States, such resistance will be an attempt to coerce those States. The position of this faction in Tennessee and of its allied faction in the revolutionary Cotton States is that the Congress of leaders assembled in the Conventions and in the Congress of the Cotton States has the right, by force of arms, to coerce and to destroy the Federal Government, and that if the Federal Government shall, either directly or indirectly, resist its armed and forcible attempts to coerce and to destroy that Government, the act of resistance and self-defence will be coercion by the Federal Government of the revolutionary Cotton States! Well, black may be white, wrong may be right, and night may be day, and the darkened understandings of we poor people, whom this faction and its allied faction in Tennessee regard as incapable of self-government may be unable to comprehend that these inconsistent and incompatible things are the same things. But until that faction, and its allied faction in Tennessee shall have convinced them that black is white, wrong is right, and day is night, they will hold their present opinions that the Federal Government has the constitutional right to maintain and defend the Union; that to enforce the laws of the Federal Government as far as practicable, is not coercion; that the faction which by armed forces and violence has seized some of the Forts, Mints, and Arsenals of the Federal Government, has coerced that Government; that the faction which shall by armed forces take or attempt to take the other Forts or Public Property of that Government, will thereby coerce that Government; or that if the Federal Government shall resist such attempts, the act of resistance will not be coercion but the constitutional defense and maintenance of the Union.