Let Us Reason Together

New York Journal of Commerce, January 12, 1861

We suppose the most incredulous of the people of the Northern States, including possibly the New York Board of Currency, who as late as November were of opinion that our political troubles "would soon blow over," are by this time convinced that the difficulties which agitate the country are of a serious character, and that all plans of pacification, thus far suggested, have proved and are likely to prove fruitless and unavailing. We suppose further, that every intelligent and sensible man, fully and clearly understands that the Union is already broken up, and that it is as idle to appeal to the Southern States to continue their political connection with the free States, under the present system, as it would be to speak to the winds in order to stop the devastation of the hurricane. That power which controls all things, can alone allay the storm and save our beloved country from dissolution.

The time has come when we may as well stop discussing the question of responsibility for existing evils, and address ourselves to the facts, as they appear upon the theatre of events. We have all had our say about the causes of the dissaffection in the slaveholding States, and we have also pretty generally freed our minds on the next point in issue, viz., whether the seceding States were or were not pursuing the path of wisdom, in thus hastily withdrawing from the Union, before the conservative men of the North could have a chance to make a last and solemn appeal to the patriotism and judgment of the people in the free States, on behalf of their injured brethren in the South. Upon these points the press and the people of the country have spoken with characteristic freedom.

There is another topic also, upon which there has been no lack of discussion, and no withholding of opinions: we mean, The duty of the Federal Government in the crisis impending. Upon this question, as upon others involved in this unhappy controversy, there have been wide differences of opinion, and, we may add, some very intemperate expressions, both against the South and the Administration. Madness would be a soft term to apply to the language of a large portion of the press, including two or three of the leading papers in this city, upon the duty of the Government in this hour of dissolution. Our own opinions have not been withheld—are never withheld—from our readers, but events have followed each other in such rapid succession that what may seem wise and imperatively called for to-day, becomes impracticable, inoperative or unwise to-morrow. Consistency in opinions and policy is always commendable, and with a fair-minded man always a point of honor, but when startling announcements follow each other in quick succession, as well might the persons who had taken shelter under a tree from an approaching storm persist in remaining there when the lightning is seen coursing down its trunk, as for man to insist upon sticking to a preconceived policy when he sees State after State going out, and the Union in fact already dissolved.

Such is the present case. We have fondly hoped to arrest the progress of the disunion movement, and to this end thousands of our citizens have raised their voices and employed their pens, in support of this or that plan of pacification. But the only body to which we could turn for action—the Congress of the United States—has proved entirely powerless and imbecile, while the country has looked to the President to preserve the peace, and to stay the tide of disunion, without for one moment reflecting that the powers of that officer were too limited, and our Government altogether too much on the voluntary system, to admit of any such remedy becoming effective.

It is but nine weeks since the election, and already three (and perhaps before this goes to press four) States have left the Union, with the certainty that several others will immediately follow. It is too late to say these States have done wrong—that they have acted without cause, and ought to return to their position in the Union. It is too late to talk of using force to cause them to return or prevent others from following them out. Such a policy, never right or capable of justification under our system, would be madness at the present stage of the controversy.

It is a part of wisdom, as well [as] a prompting of necessity, to look at the facts as they now exist. The condition of things a year, a month, a week or even a day since, belongs now to the past. A day in revolutionary times, stands for years and perhaps for ages, in periods of profound peace and quiet. Let us then take up the question of to-day. How do we find it? What is the condition of the country at this moment? Just this—the Union broken up, several States already formally withdrawn, others on the point of withdrawing, and the probability reduced to a moral certainty that a majority if not all of the slave States, will within a few short weeks declare themselves out of the Union, and refuse to acknowledge all or any obligations or allegiance to the Federal Government. This is the sober reality—what ought to be the state of the case is quite immaterial. The practical question then is how are we to deal with these facts—not how ought the facts to be? Will any one furnish an answer to this question? Is any man, any statesman, in or out of Congress, prepared to lay down a rule of action which he can assure us will be the wisest and best which can be adopted?

Perhaps it may be answered that the seceding States must be compelled to submit, that their treason must be met by force. This is the language of thousands of people throughout the North, but we are not aware that any statesman worthy of the name, has yet seriously proposed to make war upon the South, to force her to remain in the Union. There has been a great amount of bluster of that sort, but no public man has thus far ventured upon such stern reality, in the form of a distinct proposition in Congress to raise men and arm them for the bloody work of butchering their friends in the Southern States. There are enough ready to abuse and denounce the President for not doing this, but they prefer to avoid the responsibility for themselves. But suppose this policy were adopted, will it be successful? Are the ten or twelve millions of people, the seven or eight millions of freemen in the Southern States to be thus subdued? It was found impossible for Great Britain, in the war of the Revolution, to subjugate three millions, with resources vastly inferior. Assuming, however, that in a war between the North and the South, the latter are subjugated—what then? Are they thus to be made brothers and friends,—to return to a willing and fraternal Union upon the voluntary plan of our political system? No, never, while the spirit of brave men animates them, and the blood of freemen courses in their veins. Subjugated they possibly may be, but willing members of a Union like the present never, except upon terms of equality, such as they deem honorable and just.

What then is to be done? Shall we make war upon the South, and reduce them—if we can, which is more than doubtful—to slavery? We denounce African slavery, shall we then make slaves of white men, our equals and our brothers? Shall we, by such a policy, change our government from a voluntary one, in which the people are sovereigns, to a despotism where one part of the people are slaves? Such is the logical deduction from the policy of the advocates of force.

The most difficult question to be determined by the statesmen of to-day, is, what shall be done now? The President has declared that until some new action of Congress, he has "no alternative, as the chief executive officer under the Constitution of the United States, but to collect the public revenue and protect the public property, so far as this may be practicable under existing laws." At the same time, he urges upon Congress the necessity of immediate action, whereby may be secured "a peaceful solution of the questions at issue between the North and the South." We think the President is wise in thus committing the subject to Congress, who alone have power to conform the action of the Government to the existing state of things. The exercise of this discretionary power on the part of Congress, is the more needful because events of a startling character follow each other so quickly that what seemed wise and practicable a week since, might be unwise and impracticable at this time. Then South Carolina alone had passed the ordinance of secession, and the public property and revenue service there only was threatened. Now, several States are out of the Union, and nearly all the fortifications from North Carolina to Texas, are in the hands of the secessionists. To recover, and to hold them, will be to deluge the country with blood; and for what? Simply to be able to say we have subdued an unwilling people. When subdued they will not and cannot be compelled to discharge the functions of government under our system, and we cannot inaugurate a new system—a system of force—without departing from the great principle of self-government upon which our institutions are based. Is it not better to let them go,go in peace and with our benediction,—relying upon their good sense and our justice to reconstruct a Government which has failed to perform all the functions expected of it, and which therefore must be reviewed and revised to adapt it to the times and the altered condition of our population? We throw out these suggestions for the consideration of statesmen and official persons, no less than for the people. We wish the facts were different. We grieve over the fallen spirit of our people, but as practical men, we meet practical questions in a practical way. It is for Congress to act, and we must be permitted to say, that action cannot be a moment too soon.

If the separation which must take place is to be peaceful, let the fact be proclaimed before we shall have imbrued our hands in each other[']s blood. Not a week should elapse,—nor a day, if that were long enough for the purpose,—before Congress determines the policy, and gives the President authority to carry it into execution.