A Basis of Settlement--The Montgomery Constitution
Philadelphia Morning Pennsylvanian, March 21, 1861
The position of the border States is such as to awaken the solicitude of every man who values the perpetuity of the Union. They are in a position of extraordinary precariousness, which they cannot possibly long maintain. It is anomalous and unnatural, and must speedily have a determinate character. States must have a fixed settled status and policy.
Nominally in a Confederacy which is controlled by a party hostile to their best interests, they are in immediate juxtaposition and contact with a Confederacy of seven States, whose sentiments, sympathies and interests are identical with their own. These two Confederacies are rivals for their favor. Both boast of having the Constitution of our fathers. In one that Constitution has been misconstrued, perverted, abused by the dominant Anti-Slavery party, and converted into an instrument of oppression and injury. The men appointed to administer that Constitution and the laws passed in pursuance of it, are pledged to a line of policy which threatens inequality, degradation, injury, ruin to the predominant interest of the Border States.
In the new Confederacy, on the contrary, that Constitution in itself, its letter and spirit protective of slavery, has been so amended as to remove all possibility of abuse, perversion and misconstruction on the subject of slavery; to limit its financial policy to the rigorous rules of revenue without protection; to forbid the African slave trade; to extend the Presidential term to six years, and make him thereafter ineligible; to authorize the Congress to provide by law that the heads of Departments may have a seat upon the floor of either House of Congress, with the privilege of discussing any measures appertaining to their Departments.
They provide for the acquisition of new territory, and for the recognition and protection of slave property throughout such territory, and for the admission of new States. One amendment is particularly noticeable. It is as follows:—
"The principal officer in each of the Executive Departments, and all persons connected with the Diplomatic service, may be removed from office at the pleasure of the President. All other civil officers of the Executive Department may be removed at any time by the President, or other appointing power, when their services are unnecessary, or for dishonesty, incapacity, inefficiency, misconduct or neglect of duty, and when so removed, the removal shall be reported to the Senate, together with the reasons therefor." This effectually destroys that distracting, corrupting and dangerous evil which now prevails at Washington—"the wild hunt after office."
The amendments made at Montgomery on the subject of slavery are precisely such as the Border States desire, while the amendments on other subjects are just those on which the public mind, at both the North and the South, have settled down. The amendments on the subject of slavery embody the very guarantees which the Border States demand, and which the Democrats throughout the entire free States—a large majority of the masses—are perfectly willing, and have all along been willing, to grant to the South.
The Border States have before them three alternatives—to remain in the Union without guarantees—to cast in their fortunes with the new Confederacy, in which they are offered all they require—or to set up for themselves and make such a Constitution as they shall choose. Should they do the last, and carry with them the present Constitution, then would we have the eccentric spectacle of three adjoining confederacies with the same Constitution, varied only in a few particulars.
When we contemplate so unnecessary and so unnatural a division—unnecessary and unnatural, geographically, socially, commercially, in respect of race and in respect of national policy, how revolting appears that insensate, intolerant and wretched fanaticism which criminally wrecks an empire because it cannot control it, and divides and enfeebles the white race because they cannot be forced to accept the negroes as their equals.
The Republicans who have up to this time availed themselves of every conceivable pretext, make-shift and subterfuge, have sought to justify their failure to offer suitable terms to the Southern States by saying that they are ignorant as to the nature and extent of their demands, can no longer plead that doubtful plea. The Montgomery Constitution indicates to them plainly, precisely and fully both the nature and extent of those demands. They cannot henceforward plead ignorance either as to the demands of the Cotton States or of the Border States. They are both the same.
There stands that Montgomery Constitution, containing our old, venerated compact, with such additions and amendments as experience, the conflict of interest and prejudice, and the lapse of time have shown to be necessary. There it stands quietly, proudly, without menace to any, but with promise and hope to all, offering itself as a basis of universal reconstruction. It invites the Border States, the Middle States, the States of the East, and the States of the Northwest.
There is nothing in that Constitution that can repel any man, any party, any State, not fatally bent on disunion and Abolitionism.
Were the Montgomery Constitution submitted to the people of the North, they would accept it with joy and with unexampled unanimity.