What Is to Be Done?

Philadelphia Press, December 27, 1860

In an article on our first page, we present “the matters in issue” between the South and North, under such general heads as we suppose fairly embrace all the grounds of complaint which the South has or can have against the free States, their people, and the Federal Administration in their hands. Our answers to them are made briefly, too briefly, perhaps, to satisfy the reader on all the points considered. But it is not our purpose either to discuss those matters with the disaffected of the South, or to make the defence of the North against them. We have too little hope of good to come from any argument we can offer to the Seceders to undertake it. It is not the time to waste words by addressing them to those who are not likely to listen. It may be more to the purpose to address ourselves to the other party—our own readers, the people of the North. If they have any duties to perform in this exigency they will listen, and we will not lose our labor.

There are fifteen slave States in the Union, embracing eight hundred and fifty-one thousand square miles—within fifty-six thousand miles of half the area of all the States at present in the Union. These slave States hold near four millions of slaves, worth to them about two thousand millions of dollars, at the market price. Eight of them depend for all their staple products upon slave labor. The interest of all of them in this property, and its profits, is beyond calculation. Here, in mere money-worth, there is an immense interest. The people who hold it are alarmed for its security. Their whole industrial and social policy is involved in the system. They profess to have serious apprehensions for the safety of the whole frame-work of their society, and for the peace and the lives of their people. They complain of an active and dangerously hostile sentiment in the North, which threatens them with perpetual disturbance and possible destruction. Of all this they must be taken to be the judges, for their own opinions, not ours, will rule their conduct. They are looking about for such remedies as they can find, or for such defences as they can interpose. Can we, as a party involved in all this trouble and apprehension of evil, do anything to help them? We have given them the assurances which the Federal Constitution pledges for us, but they say these are not sufficient; that, in practice, it fails them, and that they must seek other securities, outside of that instrument, and more satisfactory than our action is under it. Right or wrong, this is the attitude in which they stand to us now, and we have something to do about it. The compromises of the Constitution were made to meet these wants of theirs at the time it was formed; but it did not settle their beneficial interest in the Territories, and it has failed to preserve their equality in both branches of Congress, and in the Executive department of the Union. Their only security now, under that compact, is in our justice, forbearance, or generosity, upon which they believe they can no longer rely. Ever since the adoption of the Constitution the power of the free-labor States has been growing upon them, and, more than once, efforts have been made to redress the injury and reassure them. Lou[i]siana was purchased from France, and out of it they got the States of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Missouri; afterwards Florida was purchased from Spain; then Texas was annexed; and, finally, a large domain was secured by conquest and purchase from Mexico, of which, however, they have no certainty of receiving any share. All these acquisitions of territory were made at their instance, and, in the main, in their behalf, to meet the ever-growing necessities of their condition. California disappointed them; New Mexico and Utah give them no present aid, and promise them very little in the future; and the immense domain of Kansas and Nebraska is gone from their power. They have lost the balance that the compromises intended; their power in the Union is gone; and they are at the mercy of a force of numbers which they believe to be desperately hostile to them. On these terms they will not stay in the Union if they can get out. They have no faith in the letter of the agreement as a protection. The promised fidelity of the President elect in the discharge of his official duties is no guaranty of their special interests; for the questions open to legislation may be constitutionally settled against them, and the legality of an injury is neither compensation nor consolation to the sufferer. They say that, while we insist upon what is “nominated in the bond,” employing our preponderance of power to give it an injurious force against them, they will be suffering penalties, not enjoying expected benefits. Is there anything in all this that rightly demands our consideration and claims our help?

Surely the Territorial question can be adjusted. There can be no difficulty, even in point of policy, in conceding anything in this matter which we never can by any means acquire. A compromise that accords accurately with the inevitable issue of this dispute, however conducted, involves no forfeiture of either honor, conscience, or interest to either party. We know now very well where such an adjustment would touch the subject. Let us either agree upon the principle which will leave the matter to the natural law that rules it under our system of self-government; or, by a safe anticipation, fix the line of demarcation, and so put this radical source of discontent at rest forever.

This root difficulty of Territorial distribution is one for which the Constitution made no certain provision. It cannot be settled under it by legislation or by judicial construction. It is a question outside of the compact; and we must meet it as our fathers met those which troubled them. We must exercise our best discretion in settling it, and that can be done honorably and rightfully. Get that once out of the way, and what would be left?

The exponents of the Southern sentiment tell us that it is not the election of LINCOLN that disturbs them, but the sentiment which that election manifests, which they take to be a determined hostility to their system of slavery. And against this danger they seek security. They are clearly right in distinguishing between the election of a sectional candidate, who will doubtless be a good Union President, and a sectional spirit, which lies in wait to spring upon them at every turn where injury can be inflicted. They are right in their understanding that LINCOLN was elected rather by the demoralization of the opposing political party than by sheer force of anti-slavery sentiment in the North. The enormous majority of Pennsylvania, the most conservative State in the Union, is full proof of this. They know, as we know, that in other circumstances Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Indiana, and Illinois would have gone, as they did in 1856, for the candidate of a compact, conservative Democratic party. But, have they not, also, some ground for believing that the anti-slavery feeling in the North was immensely cultivated and emboldened by the Republican canvass—that one side of the “irrepressible conflict” felt encouraged to believe itself an irresistible force, and is inclined to exercise it? We know better. We know that there is a power in the North that will never allow its extremists to invade the rights of the South, or endanger its peace and prosperity. Mr. WIGFALL tells us that we must repeal our public sentiment, as well as the personalliberty bills; that we must check the assault of tongue and press, and the tide of popular hatred against their system. He would be right in finding his true danger there, if it in fact existed, as he imagines. The situation of the South would be intolerable if the North really stood menacing it, as he supposes. But he and all the Secession declaimers are mistaken in this apprehension. It is only while there is a real, substantial matter of political agitation open between the sections that the moral sentiment gets opportunity for troublesome expression and action. Strike the bone of contention out of our political platforms, and the anti-slavery sentiment among us would instantly fall into the category of moral suasion enterprises. Slavery, like intemperance, and sin in general, would be handed over to moral and religious missionaries, and would disturb the system about as much as tracts and preaching interfere with horse-racing and mint-juleps in Virginia. To meet Mr. WIGFALL’s demand upon us, as far as we can and should, therefore, we call upon the North to adjust the Territorial question definitively, and then we will say to them, “our moral war upon your system is tempered to your own handling; it no longer uses the ballot-box for your conviction, but appeals to your conscience for your conversion, and if you can’t manage it in that form, you will, at least, not blame us with the difficulty.”

To our own side of the controversy, then, we say, this we can do, and ought to do, frankly, and effectually, and promptly.

The matter of fugitive slaves is a trifle, when it stands alone. It was only a point on which to fight out other and deeper issues. And these are the troubles which lurk out of sight under cover of a more presentable and more feasible pretence of quarrel. It would be awkward to put a popular sentiment forward as the ground of secession. The Senate laughed at Mr. WIGFALL when he exposed it, and this is just the reason that nobody can tell exactly what the South demands. To bring it to the surface and find its roots is the way to find the remedy for it. Our exposition of the matter seems to us the true one, and we submit it for the action of those who have the responsibility.

But the North has a vital interest in the preservation of the Union on its own account. The well being of our millions of men and women is not to be endangered or thrown away upon a sentiment of doubtful philanthropy, to result in a state of things which can do no good in any way to the objects for which the sacrifice is made. Our trade with the slave-holding States is much greater than is commonly thought. Every man in business, and every laborer depending upon full employment for his daily bread, now feels the mischief which a temporary suspension of trade and credit between the sections has the power to inflict upon him. A rough approximate estimate of the amount of this trade serves to explain the extent of the business revulsions produced by our political embroilment, and the consequent interruption of home commerce which we are now enduring.

In 1855, Mr. GUTHRIE, Secretary of the Treasury, put the manufacturing, mechanic, and mining products of the whole Union at sixteen hundred millions nearly, obtaining this result by adding fifty percent to the report of the census for the year 1850; and the head of the Census Department estimated the agricultural products for the year 1854 at sixteen hundred millions. Allowing for the increase of both these departments of productive industry since that time, we may state them at two thousand millions each for 1860. In 1850, the census credited the South and Southwestern States with one-tenth of the manufactures of the nation; and the Eastern and Middle States (embracing only Maryland and Delaware belonging to the slave section) with nine-tenths. In 1859 we exported to foreign countries thirty-four millions worth of manufactured commodities, which would leave nineteen hundred and sixty-six millions worth that must find a home market and home consumption. If the South supplies herself with only one-tenth of this amount, and consumes only one-fourth of them, she gives the Northern States a market for two hundred and ninety-six millions of their manufactures. We do not stop to inquire now how the balance of agricultural exchanges stands between the sections. The Northern farmer has his share of this trade in manufactures of which we are now speaking, and participates largely in its profits, and as largely in its losses and suspensions. It is enough that, without pretending to statistical accuracy, we show a market for our surplus manufactures in the South nine times larger than all the world besides affords us. The foreign exports of all the free States, of every kind, do not average more than one hundred and twenty millions a year; their sales to the Southern States are more than twice that amount. The slave State trade is of as great value annually to the free States as that of the Union is to all Europe, Asia, and South America.

Is it any wonder that our property and our labor decline twenty-five percent in present value, when so large a commerce as this is interrupted, and the commercial confidence of the parties is shaken?

We present the claims of trade as a motive to conciliation, without shrinking from the answer that sentiment, opinion, party spirit, or philanthropy may offer. There is another style of sentiment, opinion,

and philanthropy which warrants us in this appeal; the men who do the work and conduct the business of the North have such claims upon just consideration that they may be safely confronted with any feeling or speculation which would push us upon so immense a sacrifice as persistent hostility between the slave and free States must occasion.

It is true, that trade will find its natural channels at last, and it is just as true that the tide forced into the shallowest and most roundabout may dig them deeper and broader than the more direct, which have been abandoned under compulsion.

For such reasons as these we second the appeal of Wall street, Pearl street, and Third and Market streets, because they represent every street, alley, highway, and byeway; every factory and field; every house and hovel in the land.