The Attitude of the North

New-York Daily Tribune, January 7, 1861

To the Hon. JOHN J. CRITTENDEN, U. S. Senate:

DEAR SIR: The People of the Free States observe and appreciate your efforts to reconcile what are improperly termed "sectional" differences and maintain the integrity of the Union. They do not doubt your sincerity nor your patriotism. They realize that, even when you most wronged yourself in upholding the policy embodied in the Nebraska bill and the consequent dragooning of the free settlers of Kansas with intent to bend their necks to the yoke of Slavery, you yielded to a local ignorance and prejudice which you could not control, and which, because you would not minister unreservedly to its wild exactions, has consigned you to private life after the 4th of March next. They make due allowance for the ferocity of the Pro-Slavery fanaticism which has thus ostracised you, and leniently judge that, though a bolder man might have done better, an average man would have done worse; and they are not ungrateful for your honest and earnest efforts to save the Union from disruption and the country from the horrors of civil war. They feel sure that, were the People of the Slave States in the average as enlightened and as just as you are, the dangers now impending might be dispelled or averted. Nevertheless, they do not and will not assent to the Compromise proposed by you-that is a fixed fact. Here and there one who never shared their convictions, but only affected them in order to get himself elected to some high office, or who owns real estate in Washington City and feels that it is likely to be ruined by Disunion, or who has a great Railroad contract in Missouri or some other Slave State, and may be broken by the depreciation of that State's bonds, or who is a lame duck in the Stock Market and hopes to win back all he has lost and more with it if a Compromise can be fixed up, may accede to your project or to something equivalent; but ninety-nine of every hundred Republicans are opposed to any such bargain, and will not be concluded by it if made. Moreover, thousands of Democrats and of Conservatives who stood with you on the platform of "The Union, the Constitution, and the enforcement of the Laws," are also opposed to any such arrangement while the Federal authority is defied and the Union threatened with subversion. Let me briefly set forth the reasons which unite the North in resistance to any Compromise at present:

I. One State to-day is in open rebellion against the Federal authority; others are preparing to follow her immediately. Federal arsenals and forts, containing great numbers of cannon, many thousand stand of arms, and great quantities of military stores, have been seized and are now held by the insurgents, not in South Carolina only, but in Georgia, Alabama, and I believe other Slave States which have not yet declared themselves out of the Union. The slender Federal garrison of the forts in Charleston harbor is this hour in peril of destruction by an overwhelming rebel force, and not only its commander, but the President of the United States is railed at and defamed because that commander has concentrated his three or four score soldiers in that fortress where they can hold out longest and sell their lives most dearly. The Federal Custom-House at Charleston has been turned over to the state and the late U.S. Collector assumes to clear vessels on the authority of the nation of South Carolina. That pseudo nation assumes to be out of the Union, withdraws her Members from Congress, and sends Embassadors to Washington as to a foreign capital. In view of these high-handed proceedings, and the scarcely dissembled menaces that all the Federal forts in the South will soon be seized by the Disunionists, and the inauguration of Lincoln at Washington on the 4th of March next prevented by an insurgent force, the People of the Free States very naturally repel any Compromise that will enable these rebels to boast that they have frightened or backed down the North. We are not frightened hereabouts; we do not feel a bit sorry for what we have done; and we do not capitulate to traitors. If, then, what you propose were inherently admissible, we could not assent to it now.

II. I need not tell you that what you propose (the line of 36° 30', with free course to Slavery below it) has been thrice offered to and thrice rejected by the Free States. We deem it unfair on many grounds, but conspicuously because, when Louisiana, Florida, and Texas were successively acquired, the fact that they were previously slaveholding was relied on to bar any demand that they should henceforth be even half Free; and we insist that the rule which gave them to Slavery now consecrates New-Mexico and Arizona to Freedom. You would not expect Republicans to vote for your project if there were no threats and no danger of Disunion or violent resistance to Mr. Lincoln's rule; and you must not hope to extort from our fears what you could not expect us to concede from a sense of justice. You do not mean to degrade us; but your proposition, if accepted, would have that effect; and you must allow us to judge what is due to our own honor.

III. Your friends in the Slave States do not talk right. Take the following samples from the resolves of a Union meeting held on the 1st inst., in your own city of Frankfort, Ky., and addressed by your friend, Gen. Combs:

"8th. That the resolutions of compromise submitted by Mr. Crittenden in the U. S. Senate, should have met with prompt acceptance by the people of all the States, and by their constituted representatives, and while we ask for nothing more, we will submit to nothing less.
"9th. That we condemn all hasty and precipitate action by individuals or States; but, being under like condemnation, we cordially sympathize with the people of the other Slave States, and if all other redress shall fail, we will cordially and promptly appeal with them to the God of Battles, in defense of our common rights, and in redress for our common wrongs."

Is this conciliation? Your friends propose to decide the matter in issue between themselves and us, and then to enforce their decision by a prompt appeal to "the God of Battles." Is not yours a God of ballot-boxes as well as of battles? You claim to have a majority of the People on your side: why not appeal to votes rather than to bullets? Nay: You have already (it is said) secured a majority in both Houses of the next Congress: why not appeal to that? You have the Supreme Court fast against us for at least the full term of Mr. Lincoln: why not appeal to the tribunals? We have passed no act of Congress whereof you complain: you do not fear that we shall have power to pass any: You have three departments of the Federal Government out of four, and say you would have had the fourth had you not quarreled among yourselves; then why should you appeal to "the God of Battles?" If you have the People, as you surely have Congress and the judiciary on your side, what need have you to threaten rebellion because we have the President?

IV. I am not forgetting that you propose a submission of your proposition to the judgment of the People, each Congressional District to have one vote upon it. But this would not be fair, for many reasons. In the first place, the Slave States would have a dozen more, the Free States a dozen less, than their present population entitles them to respectively. But, beyond this, you know, as I know, that there can be no fair submission to a popular vote. In every district of the Free States, your side of the question could and would be fully and fairly argued; it could not on our side be argued, nor could votes be polled in the Slave States. You, for example, need not be told that you will be heard with polite attention by large audiences in any Republican State; but I assure you that Gov. Wise and Mr. Yancey may speak as freely and will be heard as patiently in Worcester, in Auburn, in St. Lawrence, in Wilmot's district, as any Republican. But would I be allowed to set forth to the non-slaveholding whites of the Slave States my reasons for wishing Slavery excluded from the Territories? Could I even be allowed freely to distribute throughout the Slave States journals and documents setting forth my view of the question? You know that we could not be allowed to present our side to the people of the Slave States, though you may not know the fact that not one-third of those citizens of Slave States who wanted Mr. Lincoln elected dared vote for him. It was so in your own State; so in others; it would be so if a vote were taken on your proposition. We would not be allowed to present our case to your people; and even those who, without such presentation, are with us, would not be free to vote as they think. Have you forgotten the destruction of more than one Anti-Slavery press by Kentucky mobs? do you not recall the expulsion of the leading families from Berea in your State for no pretense of fault but their hostility to Slavery? You are a lawyer and a good one: would you like to submit a great case to a jury one-half of whom were not allowed to hear your argument, and could only give you a verdict at the peril of their lives?

V. The People of the Slave, and especially of the Cotton States, have for thirty years been taught that the Union taxes and impoverishes them for the benefit of the North. Believing this, they are frequently impelled to menace us with Disunion, presuming that we will do or say anything to avert that calamity to our section. It is high time that mischievous delusion were dispelled, since the North can have neither equality nor peace in the Union until it shall be. The issue having been fairly made up-Let the North recede from its principles or bid adieu to the Union-I do not see how we can make any concession of principle without dishonor. We regard it as a dictate of conscience-so Mr. Webster taught us-that we should never consent to an extension of the area of Slavery. We mean to be faithful to that conviction.

-Mr. Crittenden! the People of the Free States, with every respect for you, propose to stand by the Constitution as it is; to respect the rightful authorities, State and Federal; to let Congress enact such laws as to the majority shall seem good; and to back the Executive in enforcing those laws and maintaining the integrity of the Union. For whatever troubles may impend or arise, those who conspire and rebel are justly responsible; if they would submit when beaten, as we do, there would be unbroken peace and prosperity. If the system established by our fathers is to give place to one of South-American pronunciamientos and revolts by the defeated in each election, let us know it now, and be prepared to act accordingly. In any case, allow me with deference to suggest that your proper place is with those who, whether in or out of power, defer to rightfully-constituted Government and uphold the majesty of Law.


New-York, Jan. 7, 1861.