Who Shall Rule?
Pittsburgh Daily Gazette, November 2, 1860
The great question to be settled by the approaching Presidential election is, Shall the majority rule?
Mr. Douglas started out with the plausible theory that the only way to settle the Slavery question in the territories was to leave it to the people of the territories; but events have shown the unwillingness of the South to submit to any decision of that question unfavorable to themselves, and they have now started a still more important question, viz: whether they ought to submit to the decision of a majority of the people, in this Presidential election, constitutionally expressed.
A large party— how large we cannot say, but we know it is very noisy—contends that the South should not submit to a President constitutionally chosen by a majority of the people. Nay, more, they contend that the mere choice of a particular man, no matter what he may profess, nor how carefully the constitutional forms may be observed in his election, will of itself be sufficient cause for rebellion against the government. They declare that they will not submit to a President chosen by a party other than their own; and while Gov. Wise proposes to organize an armed resistance to the government so chosen, ROGER A. PRYOR offers himself as the Brutus to plunge a dagger into the heart of the President to be placed at its head by the American people.
If these men are to be taken at their word and permitted to do as they threaten, the majority does not and cannot rule. So long as the majority chooses to elect a man satisfactory to these blusterers, it is all right; when they choose to do otherwise the government must be overthrown. In this view of the case, we as a people are no longer free. We are mere serfs, subject to the tyrannical caprices of aristocratic masters. We may register their edicts; but we must not dare to do as we please. It was upon this basis that Napoleon conceded universal suffrage; those to whom it was conceded could vote as they pleased; but if they did not vote as they were told they were to be shot down.
We live, nominally, under a Constitutional government. The Constitution guarantees to us certain rights, among which is the right of the majority to choose a President in the way pointed out in that instrument. If that right has any value it consists in the enjoyment of it without hindrance or extraneous restriction. An attempt is now making to cripple the exercise of it; to say that it shall be used only for the elevation of certain men; and that if the majority choose to exercise it in any other way the government shall be rent in twain.
The grand, overshadowing issue of the campaign, therefore is, Will the people submit to this dictation? Will they assert their rights or yield to those who menace them? Will they maintain, intact, the privileges secured to them by the Fathers of the Republic, or will they basely yield them at the bidding of the southern oligarchy—a pitiful minority which has insinuated itself into the control of the government?
These are the questions to be answered on Tuesday next. It is no longer a mere contest between four men, but a struggle for the maintenance of the great majority principle in this Government. Shall the people rule? The oligarchs say no—not if they elect LINCOLN; and it behooves the people to elect LINCOLN, just to show that they will rule, in spite of incipient traitors like Wise and volunteer assassins such as Pryor.
The time has come for a firm and resolute assertion of the majority principle. Our government can be maintained upon no other. The majority has the right to rule only within Constitutional limits; but within those limits it must rule or yield up the government to a usurping minority. The North has always acted upon this principle. When beaten it has uniformly submitted, although always the sufferer by submission. It has stood firm by the Union under Embargo Acts and low tariffs. It has seen its commerce swept from the ocean by the former; and when it turned its active energies to manufactures it has seen them also swept away by the free trade theories of the southern dictatorship. Beggary and starvation have been endured. Merchants have seen their ships rot at the wharves. Manufacturers have seen their spindles lying idle and their workmen gaunt and famished for food; and yet the North has always been true to the Union of the States, seeking no remedy except within the Union and beneath the Constitution. And now when the hour of the remedy has come, when the twenty millions of the North are reaching out their hands to right themselves in the way provided by the Constitution, seeking only their own rights and not the wrong of any man, they are met with the cry of Secession and Disunion!
If it has come to this; if we have reached that degraded state of serfdom that we dare not vote without the consenting nod of Southern dictation, then let us assign our share in the government to South Carolina, and humbly request that chivalric State to do our thinking for us, and assume the charge of our federal interests. But until it has come to that, let us do our own thinking and acting, and stand prepared to back up our acts with a resolution adequate to the occasion. We have always yielded, when the fate of war was against us, and the South must be taught to follow our example and learn that she does not possess a monopoly of the government.
As to the threats of Revolution so freely indulged in, we do not care whether they are sham or in earnest. We believe them to be mere bravado—empty gasconading, intended merely to alarm; but that is no matter. They are equally disgraceful, whether made for political effect or otherwise; and the people of the North will be false to their rights if they fail to rebuke them. The time to stand by a right is when it is threatened or in danger; and the time for fearlessly asserting the right of the majority to rule, within Constitutional limits, is now, when desperate efforts are making to prevent its successful exercise.