False Issues on Which It Is Sought to Rest the Canvass for the Presidency

Richmond Semi-weekly Examiner, October 26, 1860

It has always been the habit of those who seek to obtain power, rather than to establish a wise policy and sound principles, by popular elections, to raise false issues and avoid the real questions before the people. In no contest that we remember has this policy been more persistently and recklessly pursued than by the opponents of State and Southern rights in this canvass.—The issues presented in this canvass are few, simple and distinct. Every man can see and the dullest can comprehend them.

In the progress of our Confederacy, from its infancy to its present maturity of power, the strength and weakness of the federative, limited system of our polity has been both developed and tested. The long struggle between those who thought the Federal Government too weak and those who sought to limit its powers has been continuous, and events have demonstrated that there was no need of strengthening, but much of restraining the powers of the general agent of the States. The opponents of the Democracy and of the rights of the States having tried to increase the power of the Federal Government, by direct legislation, by building up a system of monopolising class legislation, binding men and States to the support of the Federal agency by the bonds of a sordid pecuniary interest, have failed; and this failure has been caused by the conclusive conviction of the people that the agent of the Union—the Government of the Confederacy—had abundant strength of itself without adventitious and unconstitutional additions to its powers. The opposition to Democratic principles and popular and State rights, beaten on these old schemes, by the exposure of the weakness and mischievous tendency of their proposed policy, have been forced to desist from a direct advocacy of it. They seek, however, to attain their ends by a policy more indirect and circuitous, yet equally wrong and mischievous.

The development of our political and social system, and the rapid advance of our people in numbers and wealth and power, have demonstrated that the framers of our Union were most wise in limiting with great rigor the power of the General Government. The tendency of power is to centralization everywhere. Our Confederacy has proven no exception. Power has concentrated rapidly in the General Government located at Washington, and with that concentration of necessity the weakness of State authority, and the loss of individual right in the free citizen, have been almost contemporaneous, as they are natural and inevitable consequences. The concentration of power in the common Federal agent must weaken the powers of each State by every atom of power it absorbs. As long as that Government represents the will of the majority of all the people—is the agent of the powers of the people in mass—the rights of the free individual citizen are weakened and destroyed by the absorbing power of the numerical majority. That this has been the result of the past action of our political system, writers and observers of all parties must agree. The powers of the General Government have been enlarged—the power of resistance in the States through local authorities, or the separate popular sovereignty of each State have been disregarded and diminished. The political federative system is fast becoming a system giving efficiency to the consolidated power of numbers. A numerical majority is wielding the power of the General Government over, and in disregard of the will of many of the sovereign parties to the federative compact. These facts, we think, none will deny. Three, among numerous facts, demonstrate them beyond dispute. For more than thirty years a law of this Government excluded the property of the people of one-half of the States from the common Territory of the Union. This was done as legal investigation and the highest judicial authority concur in establishing in violation of the rights of the States and people, and in derogation of the Constitution of the United States. Next, no election for offices, even those exclusively local, and for the special service of the people of a separate State, is decided on grounds affecting the policy of the State; but such elections almost invariably are decided with a view to the relations candidates bear to some question or party of a general and Federal character. The third fact is this: The parties and Federal officers generally in this Union now denounce the right of conserving the political and social institutions of the people through the State authorities, and claim for the Federal Government the power of using its own will and discretion in conducting public affairs, even by coercing and subjugating the sovereign States of this Confederacy.

The power controlling this potent Federal agency, the Government, is now a sectional majority of the aggregate people of the United States.

The real issue of this canvass is not union or disunion; but the effort on the part of the State Rights Democracy is to limit and restrain the power of this Federal agent of the numerical sectional majority, and the effort of the opponents of the Democracy is to maintain the power of the Federal Government, even though it be the agent of a despotic sectional majority, and does seek to suppress the rightful independence and sovereignty of the separate States. These are the true and unquestionable issues in this canvass. It is nothing but the old contest between the friends of centralized, concentrated powers in the hands of a General Government, and the advocates of separate, distinct conservative powers, in the limiting Constitution and the sovereign State authorities.

The effort to make the issue of union or disunion, on the Presidential election, is utterly impracticable, and a mere trick to avoid the presentation of a true and vital issue to the people for their decision. The people, as a people, voting at the polls, can no more produce disunion directly, than we can by writing this article. The question is not and cannot be brought before the voters in this election. They cannot vote or even express their opinions on it. No candidate is running to be made President of a Union to dissolve it. Each candidate is seeking to become the chief man in the Union, to wield the powers legitimately belonging to its chief magistrate, and his fate and fortune, more than that of any citizen, is linked with the fate and perpetuity of the Union. The fear from a candidate, if he be elected, is not that he will try to dissolve the Union—the very creator and support of his power and consequence—but that he will seek to make the Government of the Union too powerful. Nor can the parties which seek to elect candidates even have in view, by electing the candidate it supports, such an object as a dissolution of the Union. These parties lie in different States, and are composed of citizens who seek to advance their own interests and carry out their purposes through the officers they seek to elect. Such parties can never seek by an election to destroy the legitimate power of the government they wish to control, direct and use. Such an idea is too preposterous to be seriously considered.

Why, then, it may be asked, is it sought to turn this canvass upon the question of disunion? The answer is easy. The advocates of enlarging and maintaining the Federal power of the sectional majority in this Union know that the people cannot be induced to part with the conservative, reserved rights of the States, or to consolidate the power of the Confederacy directly.—They seek, therefore, to raise a false issue, to alarm timid and peaceable men by malting the preservation of the Union and the putting its power in their hands one and the same. They cannot prove, of course, that the election of BRECKINRIDGE will dissolve the Union; that they know is a folly and falsity too apparent and glaring to be publicly announced anywhere.—They cannot say that any principle or measure advocated by BRECKINRIDGE, or engrafted in the platform of principles on which he stands, tends or will be used to destroy the constitutional Union of these States. They know that he, his principles and policy are in the highest degree conservative. They know more—that if the government is administered on Democratic, State Rights principles that every citizen and all property will enjoy equal protection, and that the sovereignty and independence of the States will be ensured.

But the Opposition insist that the question of what shall be done in the event of a Black Republican election, is an issue in this canvass. We should like to know how it is or can be. If LINCOLN IS not elected, then the question, of course, cannot arise. If he is elected, will a vote for BELL or DOUGLAS or BRECKINRIDGE have the least influence on the decision the people will make hereafter on the policy or propriety of submitting to Black Republican rule? Every one knows that it will not. The only officers voted for at this election are the President and Vice President. Now, elect LINCOLN and HAMLIN. Will the votes cast for BRECKINRIDGE, BELL or DOUGLAS confer any power of dissolving or preserving the Union on either of these men or their supporters? Will any vote be had in this election which can in any manner affect the power or will or intention of the people of the South to resist LINCOLN, or to submit to him? If so, will some good Union man show us how it will?

The great object of supporting a candidate against LINCOLN is to prevent any such question being proposed to the people for their consideration. The object of carrying this election against Black Republicans and Federalists is to put the Government in such hands, and to give it so conservative, just and protective a direction as to remove any temptation or motive to destroy the Union, to remove from the public policy and from the public mind all those wrongs, aggressions and insults which will make a union between the two sections hateful to either. The success of BRECKINRIDGE, standing on a platform securing equality and independence to each State and every citizen, may prevent all measures and movements hostile to the maintenance of a constitutional Union. A vote which in any manner weakens popular rights and State sovereignty and strengthens the power of the agent of the anti-slavery party, will sap the foundations and weaken the ligatures of this Union. This is the only danger to the Union, and this danger is one that will not be produced by BRECKINRIDGE and his supporters, but will be brought upon the country by those who are placing power in the hands of the Government of a sectional anti-slavery majority, arming that Government with constructive and unconstitutional power, and divesting people and States of the conservative power of controlling and resisting oppression and the despotism of numbers.—On those who enlarge the powers of government, not on those who seek to restrain them, on the advocates of Federal usurpation and not on its opponents, will rest the shame and sin of dissolution, when the scene of a dismembered Confederacy and a land covered with communities arrayed in bitter hate and civil war shall be presented to the world. When men at last are driven to repel violence by the sword, to right wrong by an appeal to the last bloody arbiter of human disputes, the conservative State Rights Democracy will be clear of the guilt of having evoked such a contest, and can point to the glorious history of their past management of public affairs, to their wise counsels and to their sound protective, conservative principles, and demand the approval of every wise and patriotic lover of freedom in this land.