The Secession Labyrinth

Peoria Daily Transcript, February 22, 1861

When men get into a difficulty the great question is to get out. The people of the United States are in the midst of a great national difficulty. Let us cast aside the question how we came in it, who is to blame in the matter, and address ourselves to the question how we shall get out. If our dwelling were on fire we would not spend our time running about to ascertain through whose culpability or carelessness it occurred, but we would go at once to work to quell the conflagration.

Several methods have been proposed for the settlement of our national troubles, which we propose now to consider. They are, 1st. Compromise, 2d, Peaceable Separation, 3d, Masterly Inactivity, 4th, Enforcement of the Laws.

The first method, that of compromise in the manner proposed in Congress (amendment to the Constitution of the United States) is, in the present condition of the country, wholly out of the question. We need not discuss whether such a course is proper or improper. It is sufficient that it is impossible. The Constitution of the United States requires the concurrence of three-fourths of the States to give force and vitality to any amendment. To do this, twenty-six States must concur. Seven have left the Union and will not vote. At least a half dozen of the remaining States will vote down any amendment that may be proposed. The border States will vote them down if they do not concede their demands, and certain Northern States will vote them down if they do. Any compromise not incorporated into the Constitution will not be accepted by the South. Any compromise not incorporated into the Constitution in the manner proposed by that instrument will not be accepted by the North. To incorporate amendments in the manner provided we have shown to be impossible, and that puts an end to the first method.

Peaceable separation is proposed by those who perceive that compromise is impolitic or impossible, and who hope by it to avoid war. But peaceable separation leads as surely to war as night follows day. The United States would not allow Great Britain, France, Russia, nor all Europe combined, to maltreat citizens as our citizens are maltreated daily at the South, without war.—Maritime and border disputes would arise which would plunge us into strife before six months had passed over the heads of the two confederacies. Escape of slaves and attempted recapture and reprisals would bring the people to blows without any action of the two governments. We fought Great Britain in 1812 for one half the provocation that would be given us. No dread of civil war would stay our hands. The Southern Confederacy would be a foreign nation. We would not have to fight it for once only, but unless we absolutely conquored it, we should have to fight it forever. It would be hostile in interests, hostile in institutions, hostile in everything.

The third method is that of "masterly inactivity," the policy inaugurated by our present imbecile executive. Such a course leads to national debasement, anarchy and ruin. It is a confession that no power exists in the government for the enforcement of the laws, or that we are too cowardly to enforce them. Our revenue would be cut off, for if the South refuse to pay duties the North will refuse likewise. We could not raise money by taxation, for we can no more collect taxes than we can collect revenue.

The fourth method is enforcement of the laws. This is the only method that indicates the least chance of success. People say we have no right to coerce a State. We say a State has no right to contravene the Constitution. The Constitution of the United States, is in certain particulars supreme, and is clothed with full power to enforce those particulars. Every law passed by a State or the people of a State, in contravention of the Constitution is null and void. Any attempt to enforce those pretended laws is without legal sanction, and in as much a crime to be punished as counterfeiting, smuggling, and piracy. The question is,—Is secession right or wrong, lawful or unlawful? If not right and lawful, it ought to be put down. If we attempt to put it down, what are the chances of success? It will be the government against a faction. It will be a nation of seventy years['] growth, fighting for the supremacy of the principles which brought it into being, against a wicked combination to defeat those principles. It will be might and right against weakness and wickedness. It will be the memory of the heroes of the revolution, against the dogmas of Calhoun, the thievings of Floyd, and perjuries of those who plotted to overturn the Constitution while their oaths to support it were yet warm on their lips. It will be a people with a navy against a people without a navy. It will be a people with the sympathy of the civilized world in its favor, against a people without that sympathy. It will be a people connected by treaties with other governments, against a people cut off from all communication with the rest of mankind. It will be numbers against numbers as four to one, and that one hampered by a servile population ready, it knows not how soon, to rise and cut its throat. It will be wealth ready to be poured into the lap of the Government, against oppressive taxation and forced loans. It will be all the holy traditions[,] treasured songs, brave speeches and glories of the past, the Declaration of Independence, the love of freedom, the hopes of the future, the preservation of free speech and a free press, against the eruption of a plague spot, and the rebellion of a petty oligarchy who would "rather reign in hell than serve in Heaven." Under these circumstances who doubts our success? We have the right and the might, and there is no such word as fail.