The Crisis of the Crisis

Providence Evening Press, April 10, 1861

If any reliance whatever is to be placed on the intelligence flashed over the telegraphic wires, only a few hours can elapse before we shall know that a fatal conflict has taken place on the spot where for so many weeks it has been impending. We may well call it a fatal one, for its mortality is not confined to the combatants, but extends to the Union formed in the hope of lasting amity and peace, by the progenitors of the men now marshalled against each other in fratricidal strife. Whilst the horrible carnage thus inaugurated among kindred makes humanity shudder, and while the fate that has overtaken our proud country plunges every patriot into grief, reason protests against the sectional follies that have produced the calamity. At the North and at the South they have been engendered, and in spite of the warnings of departed sages, and in spite of the solemn admonitions of statesmen of our own day, they have grown to the terrible proportions that now compel us to stand aghast.

The power which can alone suffice to cure the evils which this bloodshed is ostensibly meant to remove, is a peaceful and not a warlike power. Its spirit is fraternity, and its instrumentalities are the substantial interests of men. If these prove insufficient, deadly weapons are powerless except to expel that spirit —it may be forever—and to injure those interests beyond computation. In a state of barbarism, the first resort of those who disagree is war. It must be the last when a state of perfect civilization is reached, if indeed, that can be called perfect civilization which permits a question of right to be decided by skill in gunnery, and superiority in putting human beings to the sword.

The "Divine right of Kings" acknowledges no other criterion of principle or expediency than the fiat of the reigning monarch. Hostilities against revolted subjects require no warrant but the sovereign's pleasure. Our forefathers disputed this dictum, rose against it, fought against it, and by successful revolution accomplished their independence of it. In its place they substituted the doctrine that "to secure human happiness, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

They premised that when it becomes necessary for a people to dissolve the political relations connecting them with another, a "decent respect to the opinions of mankind" requires the causes of separation to be made known. They added that "prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes," and that experience proves that mankind are prone to conduct themselves accordingly.

With no other qualification than was thus implied, the right of revolution was declared to be the basis on which the Free and Independent United States of America claimed recognition by the world. This declaration was succeeded two years afterward by the adoption of the "Articles of Confederation," which required that they should not be changed in any manner without the consent of every one of the States, and this arrangement was solemnly and repeatedly declared by them to be perpetual.

Nevertheless, the difficulties which arose led in less than two years to the repudiation of this required unanimity of the States, and, by consequence, to the repudiation of the perpetuity of the Union provided by the instrument. On the assent of nine States to this new order of things, the present Constitution was declared to be adopted, and the four remaining States were left to take their own course. Rhode Island was the last of them to assent to the new Constitution, and in the meantime was the sole representative of fidelity to the Confederation. But she did not attempt by fleets and armies to compel the other States to adhere to their agreement, although they threatened to treat her as a foreign nation!

In the present Constitution, there is not a word proclaiming the Union under it to be perpetual. Yet there cannot be a doubt that it was intended to be permanent. But experience had shown the folly of dependence on a form of words, and it was reasonably anticipated that the same great interests that caused the Union to be formed, bound its members in stronger bands than those that had been so lightly regarded. No "right of secession" was anywhere incorporated in "the supreme law of the land;" neither was it sought to gainsay "the right of revolution," so impressively declared at the outset.

Now that recourse has been had by seven States to revolution, under the name of secession, the world knows with how little justification violence has thus been done to the Constitution, whose beneficent provisions have been rudely, shamefully spurned upon pretexts which really show the absence of any ground of complaint which the Constitution is not competent to rectify. But the world knows also that the employment of force to suppress even the wrongful exercise of the right of revolution by the Southern States, can have no other result than to make the revolution itself complete and lasting, at the expense of thousands of lives, hundreds of millions of dollars, an amount of wretchedness fearful to contemplate, and the humiliation of the American name.