The President's Message
New Orleans Daily Crescent, December 6, 1860
The very full telegraphic synopsis of the President's Message, which we published yesterday, will be sufficient to give our readers an idea of its general tenor and scope. It will be seen that our predictions with regard to it, made a few days ago, have been verified almost to the letter, and that we knew beforehand what the Old Public Functionary intended to say, almost as well as he knew it himself.
The President recognizes and admits the fact that South Carolina is on the eve of withdrawal from the Union. So far as we can discover, he expresses no positive opinion about the abstract right of a State to secede; but he asserts that the Constitution does not confer upon the Executive the power to coerce a seceding State into submission. The value of this admission is somewhat destroyed, however, by the instructions which he says he has issued to the officers in command of the forts and other public property, to repel any attempt on the part of the State to resume possession of such property as she has granted to the Federal Government. We do not know that such attempt will be made—but if it be, we are notified in advance that it will be resisted. Herein is the only contingency in which the President appears to think there is any likelihood of a violent collision between the Federal authorities and those of a seceding State.
But while the President expresses the opinion, individually entertained, that he has no power under the Constitution to compel a State to remain in the Union, he shifts the responsibility over to Congress, and says the occasion will probably soon arise when that body will have to decide this question for themselves. He thus argues that Congress has not the power! If it be his opinion that Congress has no such power, the suggestion that Congress will probably soon have to decide the question seems to us decidedly inappropriate and out of place. Why should he suggest to Congress to determine a point which he has just said Congress has no right to decide in the affirmative? It seems to us that Old Buck is particularly muddy and confused in treating this point, but we must make some allowance, we suppose, for the delicate and unusual position in which the Old Public Functionary—never remarkable for decision of character—now finds himself so suddenly and unexpectedly placed.
Dismissing this branch of the subject, the President proceeds to give us the old stereotyped jeremiad over the horrors of civil war, and the blessings of "our glorious Union." For further particulars, consult any Fourth-of-July oration delivered within the last seventy years.
Secession, he says, is the very last remedy—to be resorted to only when everything else fails. This is exactly what the South says, and has always said. We have tried everything else, and everything else has failed—and it is precisely because this "last resort" only will save us, that we have determined to employ it. The "ebb and flow" in public sentiment, which Old Buck relies on, is a nice thing to talk of on the eve of an overwhelming and unprecedented expression of public opinion, just one month ago, in every Northern State except one, in favor of a sectional administration of the Government, looking to the present domination and the eventual overthrow of the South, her institutions, her rights, and the honor of her people. The South recognizes the fact that what she proposes is, as the President says, a last resort. It is only because it is the last resort that she has now taken position upon it, and will stand or fall upon the justice of her cause.
But the Constitution can be amended, says Mr. Buchanan—and he goes on to suggest what those amendments should be. He says this has been done before, when defects were discovered in the organic law. We suppose the Old Public Functionary is not aware that times are not the same now as they were sixty years ago. Then there was no fanaticism such as now exists—no such hatred between the two sections—no small politicians and corrupt political gamblers and tricksters in the high places of the nation. But the very guaranties he wishes given, he admits, have already been decided to exist by the high authority of the Supreme Court; and he weakly supposes that the people of the North will concede these guaranties of their own free will and accord, if they are allowed to pass upon them as States, though they do not now recognize them as decided and established by the Supreme Court! In other words, the people of Massachusetts, who now refuse to recognize the decisions of the Court that property exists in slaves —that this property is entitled to protection in the Territories—and that a man is entitled to recover his fugitive slave in another State—the people of Massachusetts, he says, thus spurning the decision of the Court, will vote to establish these same doctrines if they can act upon them within their own State! Faith will remove mountains, Mr. President; but the faith necessary to believe this, would remove the Alps from the continent of Europe, transport them across the Atlantic ocean and the American continent, and pitch them into the Pacific off the coast of California. Moreover, if the door were once opened for amendments to the Constitution, there is no telling where it would stop. We might be pledged to the observance of a Constitution openly destructive of our equality and our rights. The present Constitution is good enough for us, and its provisions plain enough.
All we require is that those provisions be observed. And if Mr. Buchanan, instead of suggesting new amendments, had appealed to the North to observe the Constitution as it now is, he would have occupied a much more manly and defensible position. If he had counseled the North to abandon their misrepresentations of the Constitution, and their evasion and nullification of the laws passed in pursuance of its provisions, he would have done the correct thing, and have applied the proper remedy for the disease. These suggestions to amend a Constitution, which the South already considers ample for her protection, if proper observance be paid both to its letter and its spirit, will be rejected by every Southern State as only a pitiful trifling with the question.
For the rest, the President thinks that the time has not yet arrived for resistance—it never will arrive, in our opinion, so far as he is concerned—and that Lincoln's election is not, alone, sufficient provocation. The President forgets that it is not the mere fact of Lincoln's election which the South pleads in justification of her conduct. But this is something which is now outside of the question. The South has gone too far, and rightly so, for recession. And if nobody has any better plan for a solution of the difficulty than the President, the fact is apparent that it is farther from adjustment than ever.