Adjustment, Compromise, Concession

Philadelphia Inquirer, February 23, 1861

Intending things right and expedient—things just, honorable, and proper, we do not hesitate or stumble at words. Things are wrong, alarmingly wrong, just now, and we labor for their rectification. Just as far as the cry of the ultraist for "The Union, the Constitution, and the Enforcement of the Laws," has any practicable and proper meaning, we yield to none in our devotion to them. But the Union arose from, and rests on, the consent of the people of every section of the country; the Constitution is a bundle of compromises; and the enforcement of the laws does not fairly contemplate civil war. The Union is not a consolidated Republic; the Constitution is not a system of pure democracy, conferring omnipotence upon a simple majority of the federal citizens; and the Federal laws have ends to be secured as well as obligations to be enforced.

It is plain as reason can make it, that the States did not intend to surrender or even imperil their essential differences of interests and pursuits by entering the Union. They did not intend to be forced, by majorities of votes in Congress, or in the Electoral College, into conformity and uniformity of industrial and civil enterprizes and institutions. The provisions of the Constitution show that the individuality of every State is carefully guarded. The amendments pressed upon the first Congress, as conditions subsequent to the adoption, serve hardly any other purpose than to show the jealousy, and emphasise the caution, with which the Slave States yielded to the Union. Everything that could be done was done to equilibrate the jarring interests of the Confederacy. The States were made equal in the Senate, without regard to population, to check the power of numerical majorities in legislation, and, as far as that element goes, equal in the election of the National Executive. Even a three-fifths representation of slaves in the lower House was conceded to the South, to bring its power as near as possible to a balance. This apportionment did come within eight votes of equalizing the Slave and Free States after the first census was taken. But the race for power between the sections had scarcely begun when the South was found relatively weaker. Louisiana for this, as well and as much as for other reasons, was brought in to restore the balance. Soon after, Florida contributed her mite as a make-weight; then Texas, and finally the acquisition, by conquest and purchase from Mexico, was added in the same spirit of compromise or equilibration that ruled the Convention of 1787. "No compromise" at the beginning would have meant no union, and at every epoch in its history which tried its force, would have meant disunion. Our Federal Union has no precedent in the world's history. It was an experiment at the beginning—it has been an experiment, demanding expedients, in every crisis since; and it is an experiment still. Seventy years of current success, secured by concurrent concessions, have not given it permanence independent of the concessions, compromises and adjustments which are the very essence of its character.

We are told that nothing has happened to create the present crisis; that no wrong has been done; no injury inflicted; none threatened; and that all is Constitutional in the action of the party now virtually in power—that the protection of Government, which draws with it the allegiance of the people, has not been withdrawn, and will not be stretched to usurpation or abuse. In the logic of law and civil polity, this is true, to the letter and in the spirit. Neither jurist nor publicist can have any doubt of all this. But something else has happened, which, while it in no way justifies secession, may be entitled to consideration as matter and ground for new concession, adjustment or compromise, in the spirit of the Constitution and the several virtual amendments made at the intervals which required them.

Any time before the year 1800, the Slave States had an equal representation in the Senate, and were only eight votes in minority in the House of Representatives, and in the Electoral College. Now they are eight votes behind the Free States in the Senate, and about sixty-two in the lower House, under the next apportionment, and consequently in a minority of seventy in the election of the President. This, so far as political power in the Union depends upon mere representative force, puts them at our mercy, or our justice or magnanimity—a dependency that we would be as slow to accept as they are to rely upon. Moreover, the North has just now made a fearful demonstration of its power. It has elected a President without the help or consent of a Southern electoral vote. The North has been provoked and driven into sectionalism; the South is beaten, punished and humbled for its many transgressions, and both parties are angry. The "Union, and the Constitution as it is" are without the harmony of union, and without the proper force of a supreme law; and the enforcement of the laws asks the destructive coercion of the sword, in the place of that salutary coercion by the magistracy which the Constitution intended.

It does seem to us to be the time for a new adjustment, or for new assurances to the party menaced by the present condition of things.

But we propose no surrender of right; we do not propose to cement or reconstruct the Union with wrong. We would offer the South the securities and assurances that should satisfy their just claims and well founded apprehensions from the Federal power which has passed out of their hands, never to return again until peace is restored, confidence renewed, and that aggressive spirit which their fears inspired is laid aside. For, not until the recklessness of slavery extension, slavery intrusion, and slavery propagandism is wholly abandoned, can the South again have a party in the North to work with them and for them to any purpose.

The Constitutional election of a President by a sectional vote is no ground of complaint under the Constitution, and it is, therefore, no ground for secession; but it may be a reason for giving renewed assurances. An Executive, like an Executor, may be fairly asked to give additional securities, when additional power and additional trusts are vested in him, beyond those contemplated in the original bond. The Constitution took care to prevent both President and Vice President from being citizens of the same State. If the present exigency had been in contemplation, ten to one but the fathers would have provided that the chances of the Executive office should have been balanced over MASON and DIXON, so as to prevent that sectionalism on a grand scale, which they ruled out on a smaller and less dangerous one.

But the concessions which we propose are not gifts or favors—not sacrifices of the North, or helps for the extension of the institutions of the South. We believe that climate and the natural course of things rule the matter of slavery absolutely; and that no interference by Congress can ultimately affect it. Believing this, we would anticipate such ultimate settlement, agree to it now, put it out of debate, out of Congress, and out of party politics; and so give the Union peace, quiet its fears and its struggles; and while giving the question time to settle itself according to the necessities of things and the will of Providence, turn the attention of the people, the parties, and their representatives, upon the proper business of the nation, and so secure its real welfare.

The crisis is, in the language of Mr. LINCOLN, an artificial one, though not the less fearful and severe on that account. It is artificial, so far as it lacks present substantive cause, and even as it is employed or engaged with a subject which it can in no wise manage or control. The extremists of the North are quite sure that the Secessionists can do nothing for the benefit or the security of their pet scheme of extending or defending slavery, by withdrawing from the Union. The extremists of the South risk all the chances and changes of revolution and dissolution, hostile legislation and civil war, in the expectation of equivalent benefits. But who shall convince either party that it is wrong in apprehension or conduct?

The Unionist can answer both without an argument with either. He can agree with both and dissent from both at the same time, upon the issues which they have raised, and reconcile both without convincing either of them, by proposing the concessions which give away nothing that the one party can in any event withhold, and at the same time bestows [sic] nothing which the other is in any danger of losing. He only ascertains the inevitable, and compromises a quarrel which can no way influence it, but may destroy the belligerents, and must do much damage while the final issue is settling itself by its own proper forces and tendencies.

Everybody knows that slavery cannot live above 36 deg. 30 min. Let us agree upon that now, and pledge ourselves to settle it without further dispute. It is just as clear to us, that all the existing territory South of that line is destined to free labor, and is just as unfit for slave occupation. But the point of honor, or abstract right, or equal right or chance comes in, and the South insists. Very well; we will submit New Mexico to its chances by any fair arrangement which will give us peace, and then await the issue. If Northern and foreign immigration cannot take that region from the slave colonizers, it is because it does not invite the free laborer and his free institutions, as Kansas and California did, and for its unfitness is to be abandoned to the slow occupation of the people encumbered with a system which can scarcely get a foothold in any but semi-tropical regions, and cannot long hold its place except in the most favorable conditions. New Mexico is below the geographical line of compromise, but it is above the line of climate favorable to slavery. It is an idle quarrel, indeed, or an artificial one, if the phrase has more authority, but the bloodiest wars have had as little cause. It is as capable of mischief as if it were worth all the sacrifice it may cost. We would therefore treat it gravely, and do what in us lies to avoid and avert the evil. Woe to the men upon whom the responsibility rests, if they fail their country and the world's hopes in this crisis. Platforms must give way to the Constitution, party to the Union, and the laws must be executed—not made incapable of execution.