Mr. Lincoln's Address
New-York Daily Tribune, March 6, 1861
The almost universal satisfaction with which the Inaugural Address of President Lincoln is received is the strongest evidence of the anxiety with which it was waited for, as well as of the high character of the document itself. For nearly four months the people of this country, strong in the power of self-government to which our institutions have bred them, have sustained themselves, as no other nation could have done, virtually without a central government, and while all the evil elements in the discontented and vicious of the community were appealed to by an apparently successful rebellion. Undoubtedly we have been drifting fast into anarchy; the reign of scoundrelism was impending, and might have already overwhelmed us but for the patient forbearance of the people with an effete and expiring government, and the patient waiting for the government to come, on which all hopes and all fears were centered. But had it been evident that the incoming Administration was to be a mere continuation of the imbecile policy of the last three months, the country sustained no longer by the hope of something better to come, would have fallen presently into general wreck and ruin, at least for a season, incapable of holding together even by that powerful cohesion of popular government, which is at once the result and the test of the excellence of our Republican system. The feeling then would necessarily be one of great relief were the Address merely an assurance of some positive firmness on the part of the new Administration.
But how much more must it gratify the public expectation when the address is found to be marked by a sagacity as striking as its courage, and by an absence of all passion as remarkable as its keen division of the line of duty, its unequivocal statement of the issues at stake, and uncompromising admissions of their precise value. Upon the question of Slavery the President frankly acknowledges all that the Constitution requires, as the Republican party has done before him, and proclaims the duty of fulfilling those requirements. But there is no hypocritical profession of a hasty alacrity at performing what is the exceptional duty under a free government, and he is careful to characterize it as held by the majority of the people as strictly a “dry legal obligation.” The question of Slavery in the Territories, inasmuch as the Constitution is silent in relation to it, he holds must be settled by the majority and their decision acquiesced in by the minority. Nor does he submit on this point to the dictum of the Supreme Court. In a few pregnant sentences, worthy the charge of a Chief justice to a jury, and containing more sound law than is often found in charges twenty times its length, he clears away all the assumed settlement of the question by the Dred Scott decision. To the binding character of such decisions in private suits he assents, but he considers that the people would practically cease to be their own masters and resign the right of self-government into the hands of that tribunal, if they acknowledge that the policy of the Government is to be irrevocably fixed by the decisions of the Supreme Court, to which the Constitution gives no political power. And this is as sound common sense as it is good law, and sweeps away at a dash all the cob webs of sophistry that have been woven over the public mind by the judgment in the case of Dred Scott.
But it is in the admirable treatment of the Secession question that Mr. Lincoln is most entitled to the gratitude of the country, and must certainly, it seems to us, command the support of all good citizens. The duty of the head of the Government to assert the rights of the Government itself is so self-evident a truth that the truth of the corollary is no less so—that those will be guilty of commencing civil war, if any shall arise, who shall attempt to hinder the Federal Government from occupying its own property. The avowal of his purpose, in this regard, is unequivocal, unhesitating, firm, and earnest. One thing only can be understood from it—he means to execute the laws. But as there is no hesitation, so there is no haste; and the firmness of his purpose is tempered by mercy. He means evidently to provoke no unnecessary hostilities, and only where his duty is perfectly clear to protect the rights of the whole will he assert the authority of the Federal Government. If in the interior of the Southern States foolish people will not permit the presence of Federal officers, they will be permitted to do without them, as they only are the losers; but where revenue is to be collected which belongs to the whole people, or where forts are to be reoccupied which no more belong to the section where they happen to be than they do to the people of the most distant corner of the Union, then the laws must be executed, and the power of the Federal Government asserted. But time, no doubt, will be given to the unhappy people, betrayed by an imbecile Government into excesses which four months ago they never contemplated, to return to their allegiance, and restore the property of which they have possessed themselves under a lamentable delusion.
The clearness with which the President states his position on this point is as remarkable as its firmness, and so persuaded will the country be that it is a wise plan, and that it is a plan which must confine all further disturbances to a few localities in settling the difference with the South, and that no disastrous consequences will follow it to any of the interests of the country, that we predict that the people will now turn to their several affairs, the mechanic to his craft, the farmer to his plow, the merchant to his merchandise, all men to their usual callings, satisfied that they may safely leave the question in the hands of one perfectly able to manage it, who will bring order out of seeming chaos, reason out of folly, safety out of danger, and that in so doing he will not sacrifice the national honor or jeopard any of the national interests.