The Border State Conferences
New Orleans Daily Picayune, February 8, 1861
At the same moment when the Southern seceding States are uniting in convention at Montgomery to create a new government for a new Union, the border States are holding another convention at Washington City for the purpose of restoring, if possible, the old order of things.
This convention was invited by the Legislature of Virginia, in order, as expressed in the preamble to the resolutions which contain the proposal, "to make a final effort to restore the Union and the constitution in the spirit in which they were established by the Fathers of the Republic."
The invitation has brought together a representation highly respectable in the character and public influence of the delegates appointed from the border slave States, and from a considerable number of Northern border States. Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and Kentucky are powerfully represented. Ohio and New Jersey have sent delegations, and we believe Pennsylvania and New York, North Carolina and Tennessee. Illinois refused, and so we think did Indiana. States that are not represented directly will doubtless be consulted through their leading citizens whom the alarming state of public affairs will have brought together at Washington. There will be no want of outside and inside effort to find a basis for conciliation upon which it may be hoped that a new Union, including all the States, may be constructed.
The preservation of the Union by any of the forms of the present constitution is so plainly impossible that the first and fundamental idea of any convention which looks to a further association of these thirty-four States under one government must be that the old constitution is suspended in fact as to six of the States, and that its powers can never be renewed over them but by the result of negotiations commenced and concluded with them as independent States. They have taken positions from which it is impossible to retreat if they desired it. The dissolution of the relation of each with the Federal authorities has constituted each, by her own theory of right, an integer State, no longer competent to take part in the deliberations of the adhering States on questions of change in the government she has thrown off. If they desire to make changes to meet her views, it must be done without her, and whatever they do cannot be presented for her concurrence as one of themselves, but for her acceptance as an independent State, free to negotiate, and as free to reject as to accept. This is the position of all the seceded States, now seven in number. They have left themselves no longer the capacity to vote as States in the Union, on any proposition for amending the constitution. Whatever is done that way in the way of conciliation, must be done without them, and submitted to them afterwards, as the original constitution was submitted to the original thirteen. Each State will be competent to accede to the amended constitution as absolutely as if it were an entirely new instrument, and as absolutely free to decline it, and remain independent.
If it were otherwise, and it be conceded by the seceding States that they can vote on proffered changes, under the forms of the constitution as when they were members of the Union, the corresponding obligation would follow, to submit to the adverse decision of the tribunal to which they had consented. To amend the constitution, requires three-fourths of the thirty-four States—now Kansas is admitted; that is to say, twenty-six States. Nine States could defeat any amendment. It follows, that if the seceding States, which have left the Government because eighteen States have pronounced against them—which eighteen has since become nineteen—on a matter of life and death to them, should consent to refer the same questions to a tribunal in which nineteen can foreclose the chance against them, by refusing to vote for the amendment, and nine can defeat any proposition they please, it would be equivalent to an agreement to surrender themselves to the judgment of nine of the Abolition States, with the pledge, necessarily implied, to acquiesce in their verdict.
Acts of secession have given formal notice that seven of the States will have no part whatever in proceedings which carry their case before such a tribunal, and which give, by implication, a right to expect that they will submit to such a verdict. They are out of the reach of being outvoted by the Abolition States and there is no way of dealing with them but by negotiating with them separately or conjointly as individual States, who may perhaps be willing to confer upon a fair plan for a reconstructed Union, and perhaps not.
The adhering States do not, however, agree in considering these seven States as actually out of the Union; but persist in shaping their measures—as if they were to be retained by some measure either of compulsion or concession. In the Border State Convention a difference of opinion on this head will be developed very soon. Some of the States there will hold that a State may rightfully secede; and several, including all the Southern delegations, will be resolute in asserting that there shall be no attempt to assert Federal supremacy by force. These differences may obstruct the action of the convention in limine, and prevent them from considering any plan for conciliation at all.
But these considerations waived or overcome, the real difficulties commence.
They are manifold. They may not agree on what shall be proposed. Congress may not consent to pass them by a two-thirds vote for the action of the State Legislatures. Three-fourths of the State Legislatures may not agree to them; and if they should, the seceding States may refuse to accept them as satisfactory and prefer to remain separated.
If the other form be tried, of calling a convention by the demands of three-fourths of the States to consider the border State plan, three-fourths of the Legislatures may not concur; a general convention, if called, may fail to agree; or, if agreeing, the plan may still be rejected by the seceding States, each of whom can act for itself.
These difficulties are made insuperable by the fact that seven of the States, which were interested, while in the Union, in amending the form of government so that they could remain, are out of it, and can take no part in the deliberations, or no action, while the theory of the adhering States, through their representatives in Congress, is that these seven States must be counted in the determining of the result. In all movements for amending the constitution, thirty-four States are still reckoned as parts of the Union, and for constitutional amendments, twenty-six are necessary in order to make three-fourths.
The secession of seven States leaves only twenty-seven to deliberate and to act, and of these nineteen are non-slaveholding and eight slaveholding. On the Federal theory that the Union is not and cannot be dissolved but by the assent of a general convention, every proposition for amendment must obtain the concurrence of twenty-six States, and the whole number of States which can act being but twenty-seven, it is obvious that the vote of any two of the twenty-seven will defeat any proposition whatever. Kansas and Vermont can overrule the other twenty-five, and thus settle all chance for restoration of harmony among the thirty-four by shutting out the possibility of even a submission of terms for adjustment of any kind by the subsisting government, even to the adhering States.
A chance for settlement which depends so entirely on the all but unanimous support, through all its stages, of the Black Republican States, is too remote a vision of credulous hope or unsubstantial figment of the imagination to be the basis of any acts by the Southern people either compromising their rights, or their powers and modes for protecting them.
Who ever has seen anywhere the signs that eighteen Black Republican States will accede to such terms as will be satisfactory to the eight adhering Southern States, or tolerated by the seven seceding States, may have faith in a propitious close of these border State propositions, within the frame of the old constitution, and he would have the further faith that the same converted majority will deal with secessionism as a conceded fact, and submit their propositions to free negotiation. That would be to concede at last what is denied at the outset—the right of independent action. Why, then, should it not be acknowledged at once, and dealt with as a basis for all attempts at conciliation, that the Union is dissolved, pro tanto, and that the adhering States should take all steps needful for their own facility in acting, to negotiate fairly upon the grounds of re-union, or the terms for separation.
If conducted in that spirit, the border conference may result in good by presenting the ultimata of concession in regard to the disputed questions on both sides, and preparing the way for either a fair presentation of a basis for reconstruction or the general abandonment of the effort as hopeless, with a peaceful agreement for each section to pursue its happiness in its own way.
In any other point of view, the Border Convention will prove a total failure, in its main design, for conciliation, although we cannot doubt that it will be of service in preparing the public mind for acquiescing in the necessities which it shall show to be beyond the control of the wisest and most moderate men in the nation.