The Policy of Silence
New Orleans Daily Crescent, November 28, 1860
Some of the quasi-conservatives of the Northern States have been calling upon Lincoln to make an authoritative exposition of what will be his policy as President. They believe that if he will give assurances to the South that its Constitutional rights will be respected, it would go far to calm the Southern people and kindle within them a fresh flame of loyalty to the Government.On the other hand, the Abolition papers promptly object to such a course on his part. They say that he is not yet President, and it will be time enough for him to indicate the tenor of his administrative policy after he has been duly installed in the Presidential chair. They declare that it will be proof of weakness and timidity, if the President elect yield to what they call “pro-slavery clamor,” and declare his intentions, before he assumes the robes of office.
Mr. Lincoln has decided the question himself, and he has decided it in accordance with the advice of his Abolition allies. The other day a great celebration of their victory was had at Springfield, Illinois—the place of Lincoln’s residence. The “coming man” was of course called on —of course made a speech. But, instead of giving any inkling of his policy, he was, in that respect, as mute as an oyster—what might be called eloquently silent. His discourse was full of stereotyped expressions of gratitude, of common-place verbiage, of meaningless platitudes. His friend, Trumbull, was rather more explicit—but even Trumbull failed to meet the issue, or to say anything that was positive and practical. An assurance that the rights of the South would be respected amounts to nothing, unless he had defined what those rights are, and the mode in which they are to be observed. People, North and South, differ widely in their construction of the Constitution, as affecting the rights of each section. And Trumbull, who is very far from being a fool, knowing this fact, knows also that his vague assurances are not worth the paper upon which they are printed, and that the South will derive no satisfaction whatever from their utterance. The time for evasion and subterfuge has passed, and the South wants a plain, positive, distinct recognition of what she conceives herself entitled to, and she will take nothing else. If she cannot get this in the Union, she wants to know it, and to know it at once.
But, the truth is, there is no need for Lincoln to declare his policy. We know well enough what is to be. The party that elected him would not have done so if they thought he would cheat them; and they had him sufficiently committed upon the record to be satisfied he would prove true to their doctrines. If Mr. Lincoln had gotten up and told the people that his Administration would protect the rights of the South as understood by the Southern people, he would have subjected himself to universal contempt, and made himself worthy of the brand of personal infamy and dishonor—because everybody knows that he was elected by a party organized upon the basis of hostility to those rights as universally understood by the Southern people.Trumbull says that the rights of all shall be respected—but, how about the right which Southern men claim of going into Territories with their property? Does Trumbull concede this? If he does, he has been imposing upon his own people for many a long year. How about the right to recapture fugitive slaves—a right expressly guaranteed by the Constitution? Possibly they may concede this abstract right—but when they throw obstacles in the way which render the right worthless, it is an insult to the South to concede it. As well tell a man, condemned to imprisonment for life in our State Penitentiary, that he has a right to mine gold in California. How about the right which the South claims, to be free from oppressive duties and Government bounties to special Northern interests? How about the right to be free from John Brown raids, Abolition incendiaries burning our towns in Texas and elsewhere, and vagabond emissaries from the North instilling insurrectionary poison into the ears of our slaves? Does Trumbull mean these, when he talks about conceding the rights of the South? If he does, he has been guilty of hypocrisy heretofore, and if he does not, his declarations are utterly worthless and even positively offensive.This is no time for clap-trap, and vague, indefinite generalizations. Words will not do. The South, so far as her political and social rights are concerned, cannot feed, like the chameleon, on air. It is a mockery for Lincoln or his friends to say her rights will be respected, when we know that their interpretation of our rights is exactly the reverse of our own. Compromises have failed to settle the questions in issue between us—expostulation and entreaty have done no good—a generous forbearance on our part has been interpreted into fear and cowardice—and now the catalogue of remedies is exhausted, with one exception only. If anybody is in doubt of what that last remedy is, a few weeks of time will soon tell the tale.