The Future of Secession
New York Times, March 21, 1861
It cannot be denied that there is a growing sentiment throughout the North in favor of letting the Gulf States go. The Abolitionists everywhere have been in favor of a dissolution of the Union from the beginning. They have been hoping that the border States would join the secession movement, and that we should then have two Confederacies,—one free and the other slave. In this way they think we should rid ourselves of all responsibility for the existence of Slavery,—deprive it of the protection which it now enjoys under the Federal Constitution, and prepare the way for open warfare upon it. The course of events has led very many persons to concur in the wish for a peaceful separation, who do not at all sympathise with these views of the Abolitionists. The dread of war, the apprehension that collisions may occur between the Federal authorities and the seceding States,—has, perhaps, more to do with this desire than any other motive. Let us separate in peace,—let us dissolve the partnership and let the Slave States take care of themselves, rather than run the risks of a civil war,—is the sentiment and language of thousands who have no sympathy with the ultraists on either side.
We regard this sentiment as unsound and dangerous. It ignores entirely the nature and sanctions of government, and involves perils to the country far greater than those it seeks to avert. The danger of War would, in our opinion, be far greater after separation than it is now. Differences which may arise between the two sections, which now both take the greatest pains to settle, would then be contested with heated hatred, and would end in open conflict. Questions of commerce, of the rights of navigation, of extradition,—cases of insult or maltreatment of citizens,—a thousand sources of hostility would be created by the very fact of separation,—and all the restraints which now prevent war, would be removed. We might remain at peace for a year or two, but War would inevitably follow a dissolution. It would be impossible for two nations, so hostile to each other in the basis and ground-work of their society,—separated under circumstances of mutual distrust and dislike, lying side by side, with only an invisible boundary, touching each other upon a long frontier, and having a thousand sensitive points of dissension and discord, to avoid hostilities for any considerable length of time.
While we remain united, even nominally, there will be on both sides the utmost aversion to a hostile collision. All in both sections who desire the restoration of the Union, will do everything in their power to prevent a conflict. The Federal Government will avoid a resort to force until absolutely compelled to use it in self-defence,—and with every day of reflection the people of the South will become more and more unwilling to precipitate such an issue.
The true policy of the Government is unquestionably that of masterly inactivity. The object to be aimed at is, the conversion of the Southern people from their Secessionism. The appeal of the Government must be to the minds of the people,—to their judgment, their political sagacity, their common sense. Force, as a means of restoring the Union, or of permanently preserving it, is out of the question. It has its place in our system of Government as in every other. It may and must be used to repel aggression,—to hold public property and to enforce obedience to the laws, in every case where temporary disobedience would not be a less evil than the attempt to compel assent: and of this the Government itself must be the judge. But no war,—no force can ever restore the Union. That work must be done by other means. The people of the South must come back,—not be driven back: and they will do it whenever they are convinced that their safety will permit, and that their interests require, it. It must be the aim of the Government to convince them of this fact,—and to avoid everything which will change the issue and prevent the people from exercising their calm judgment upon the subject. It must not dissolve the Union, nor recognize its dissolution—nor permit any of the bonds of Union which still remain to be severed. Let it hold its forts, its arsenals, and all its public property—not menacingly, but as a matter of right and of duty,—and let it make no attack, and repel none for any other purpose than strict defence and self-preservation.
This, in our judgment, is the policy by which the Union may be preserved, and must be, if it is preserved at all. It should be adopted and carried out vigorously by the Government,—by active efforts as well as by passive avoidance of everything which would interfere with its effective prosecution. The efforts of Union men in every Southern State should be recognized and encouraged. Documents, setting forth the true position of the Administration upon every question involving Southern rights, should be placed in the hands of every Southern man. The patronage, the influence and the power of the Government should be used to build up the Union party in every Southern State, and to enable it to contend vigorously and successfully with the party of Disunion.
This may seem a long process,—but it is the only one which contains the slightest promise of success. It would be easier and more expeditious, doubtless, to sever the Union at once, and thus end the strife. But that would only begin it. The Union is worth an effort for its preservation, both on account of its positive benefits, and because it is the only guarantee for peace, freedom and prosperity. We believe the President will make its restoration the leading aim of his efforts and that he will adopt a policy which will prevent war, satisfy the South of his determination to respect their rights, and eventually bring back every Southern State.