The State of the Country

Newburyport Daily Herald, March 25, 1861

The state of the country is like the Irishman's patient, growing no better very fast. Both parties are waiting for re-action; and our Northern papers are every day saying that much disaffection prevails in Georgia, Florida, Texas or somewhere else, and if the people had the opportunity they would vote down the Montgomery government. Just as much is the other side expecting that the Northern States will vote down the Republican Administration; and one is probably as near right as the other. There is disaffection in both sections, but no approach to a settlement of difficulties; and on the whole we believe the South are getting the better of us. Their power is becoming consolidated; they are preparing for defence or aggression; their revenue is increasing, and with present tariffs will support their government; and they have between them and us several States that are doing much for their support. On the other hand we are doing nothing to regain the cotton States; we are neither building a navy or increasing an army, that may be needed as a last resort; our revenue is decreasing, and it appears as though the late tariff must be abandoned or the country plunged in a ruinous debt. How long will this state of affairs continue?

For ourselves we believe that every day's delay will put us farther from the union, harmony and peace desired; and so it has been going on for the past three months. During all the confusion that prevailed for sixty days after the election, the North maintained a grave and solemn silence, or said this tumult would shortly subside, and the country become disgusted at the agitators. Seward spoke of the matter at the Pilgrim's celebration as late as the 22d December, at New York; it was a subject more laughable than solemn, and in sixty days peace was to be restored. Before the sixty days were out Mr. Seward was himself alarmed, and spoke of secession as the greatest danger we had ever experienced, threatening the greatest evil the world had ever known; and suggesting not that two or three months would give quiet, but that in two or three years we might have a national convention to "fix up things." He was followed by Mr. Adams of this State, Mr. Kellogg of Illinois, and by Senator Baker of Oregon, who thought affairs had so changed that we should no longer adhere to the Chicago platform. This was after secession had actually taken place, which we believe never would have taken place had these men spoken in the first two weeks of the session. We have since the election of November yielded enough to satisfy the country at the time of the election. We have spoken words of peace and conciliation; Congress has voted that it would never interfere with slavery in the States; it has abandoned interference with slavery in the territories; it refused to touch the repeal of the slave code of New Mexico, and left all the other territories without a prohibitory proviso. The President has announced that the "republic is peace;" he has not made a movement towards coercion, but by the abandonment of Fort Sumpter has gone in the opposite direction; and his appointments have shown that the abolition sentiment of the North is to receive no favor at his hands.

We believe that before the Montgomery government was formed this would have been satisfactory to the South—it would have defeated secession in Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana, and thus everywhere; but since that government is organized we have now other steps to take, either of compromise or coercion, and it is time to think what we will and what we can do. There seem to us several ways in which this matter can be reached, more or less safe and peaceable. The first and best is the regular mode through the established government, and within the dominant party. They can look over the whole ground and say at once and decisively whether they will yield anything to the demands of the cotton States, and if so what they will yield. Let us not give up one point at a time, and dally and fool as we have in the last three months, but clearly say where we make our stand.—What do the South want? That slavery shall never be interfered with in the States, or on lands under the exclusive federal jurisdiction within the slave States. Nobody thinks of thus disturbing their institution; and what prevents our saying that [it] shall be guarantied? They affirm that the Territories are a trust in the hands of the general government for the common benefit of the people of all the States, and that any policy which confers greater benefits upon the North than the South, is an inequality not to be submitted to;—that the prohibition of slavery is the exclusion of the people of fifteen States from these common territories, and shall not be. Now if the permission or right, if so they will term it, endangered the freedom of these territories, this would be a subject for consideration and discussion; but if as Mr. Seward and C. Francis Adams say, and as every man of common sense knows, this is a mere abstraction and slavery cannot go into these territories, how foolish is it to risk the public peace, the union of the States, the greatness of the American name, indeed the freedom of the white race on this continent and his progress in the whole world, on any such issue. We can afford to say to them, you ask what will do you no good, as you yourselves admit, and what will do us no evil, as all the world knows; the territories are open—enter the race, and when they reach such a population they shall be admitted as coequal States. We say that point can be yielded, and not the straightest Republican jeapardize the smallest fraction of all he aims at thereby. Then, they ask that we should return fugitive slaves. That we have most faithfully promised to do. There should be no question on that pointit does not admit of dispute. But the public sentiment is such that it can not and will not be done, they tell us. If we fail to perform our duty by violence of the mob, we should make good the property, as we do when we fail to perform our duty to a citizen of Massachusetts in protecting his property which is destroyed by a mob.

But then they say—you hate slavery—you print about it, and preach against it, and pray God to curse it. Very well, we can't fetter the press or stop free discussion, for anybody or anything; we shall not cut the tongues of our children as soon as they are born, for fear they will denounce slavery; and there is no wish and no power to establish a censorship of prayers. We can only fulfil the law; if that commands tribute to Caesar we pay it; but we are not bound thereby to sanction Caesar's government and say that it is ordained of God. We guarantee that nobody shall interfere with slavery in state or territory, on the plantations or in transit from one slave state to another, nor interfere with the sovereign rights of States within their own borders; and if anybody does interfere he shall be punished for crime or misdemeanor. They have no right to ask of us anything more, and if they do we cannot yield it. That leaves them to sustain what we believe to be an evil and a curse, till in the progress of events they shall put it off, as New England, the Middle and some of the western States have: and that time cannot be distant for some of the States, and will come just as quick to all of them as it would if we kept up a ceaseless conflict. We must remember their weakness; we must remember their circumstances and education; we must remember that these slaves are heathen and savages, and if they were among us we would not set them free absolutely, nor in great numbers at once. We must take into consideration all the facts, and act towards them as to our brethren, as we would have them act towards us in a reverse of circumstances. Proceeding in this spirit we do not doubt that these troubles might be brought to an end.

If the government will not take the responsibility of inaugurating compromise measures, they can be reached through a national convention, called in such a manner that all the thirty-four States will take part in it, and this is the next best mode, and should not be made too distant.

Should Congress refuse action that will bring peace, and no national convention be had, one thing will follow, and it is the third and last hope we have of peaceful reunion, and that will be by disunion and revolution. The Border States, as we term them, will not remain with us, situated as they must be apart from the Cotton States. They will leave us; and when they do, if they remain independent both of the North and South, falling back upon the ground that Virginia originally occupied and held, up to the commencement of the anti slavery agitation, they will hold the middle country from the Atlantic to the Pacific and form a sort of spinal column to which both the extremes will be forced to come for safety, interest, and from the public sentiment that will be aroused, for the time is not distant when the Union sentiment will overpower all other feeling from the Lakes to the Gulf.

These seem to us the only peaceful means of reunion—first, compromise through Congress; second, adjustment by a national convention; or, third, by the separate and independent action of the Border Central States. But, suppose after all there are States that will not yield—that determine to remain out of the Union—in other words, however peacefully they may profess, to hold a position of hostility to the United States—what then? We do not hesitate to reply—let the sword do its work! The Union was the price of blood; it cannot be dissolved without blood. War would be a terrible evil, we know; but let it be so—no evil can befall us so great as disunion—no combination of evils can be so great as disunion. It would be the destruction of all we have and all we have ever hoped for the country. We can see nothing beyond the Union but an unceasing series of calamities, in which life itself, to one who has enjoyed the privileges and blessings of this government, might be undesirable. We feel certain that though war to preserve the unity of this country might and probably would change the form of government, yet if that unity could be had at no cost short of a million lives and a thousand millions of money, and it were for us personally to decide, we would say let the martyrs die, let the property go, but let the country remain. We may sack the cities, burn the towns, waste the fields; we may destroy the commerce, close up the mines, and stop the manufactories; we may make every valley a Thermopylae, every hill a Bunker Hill, and every plain a Waterloo; we may give the sea to drink up the blood of the fallen, the earth to enrich with the bodies of the dead, and the atmosphere to be pestilential with the effluvia of the battle slaughters; we may plunge every family into mourning, fill the towns with widows and the land with orphans, but from all this disaster we may rise again, if the country itself survives. Future years would bring a new population; commerce would again spread her wings upon the seas, the fields would smile with plenty, the noise of the waterfall would mingle musically with the hum of the spindle, and the day of full restoration would come; but when these States disorganize and dismember, then is the last viol of wrath poured out, and we may fear no greater ill. God forgive us, if we now or ever hesitate to sacrifice any thing personal, partizan, or sectional, for the unity of this country; God forgive us, if we do not teach our children with their infantile prayers and with the last word we utter to them, that except heaven there is nothing so sacred as the American Union. In the Union is peace, liberty, and progress for the unborn and the endless generations to come. In the American Union is the highest earthly hopes of mankind; and when that fails, God grant that it may be for other eyes to behold what lies beyond; we have no heart to think and no wish to see what remains when the veil of that temple shall be rent asunder.