The Anti-Coercion Delusion

Springfield Daily Republican, February 9, 1861

That portion of the northern democratic leaders who are attempting to make an "anti-coercion" issue with the republicans are only repeating in a more flagitious form the mischief they did during the presidential campaign. The strength and virulence of the disunion movement is due in no small degree, as all now see, to their perverse misrepresentations of the principles and designs of the republican party. The great mass of the southern people undoubtedly believe that the incoming administration intend to assail slavery in the slave states, and it is this belief that has caused the intense feeling and precipitate action for secession. We speak of the people of the South; the leaders know how utterly false is this opinion. The northern leaders of the democratic and Union parties are responsible for this mischief, for they have had the ear of the South, and have filled it continually with these malign falsehoods. Now they are doing still worse. While pretending to be patriotically anxious to save the Union, and calling lustily on the republicans to sacrifice party to country, they are repeating the same game of falsehood and fraud in an infinitely more injurious form. They now accuse the republicans of a design to coerce the South, to invade and subdue the seceding states, to desolate them with the horrors of civil war; and the most frightful pictures are drawn of the punishments the republicans are preparing for the southern people. What is the natural effect of these falsehoods? There can be no question on this point. Their effect is already seen in the increased determination of the seceding states to resist to the last, and in the avowed purpose of the other southern states to defend them against "coercion." It avails nothing that coercion is disavowed; democratic papers and conventions and sham Union meetings continue to repeat the alarming outcry. They seem bent upon exasperating the South to uncontrollable phrensy, as if to precipitate the terrible evils they profess to deprecate. Their eagerness to break down the republican party by any available means completely overrides their patriotism, and under pretense of a desire for peace and Union they are pursuing the very course to destroy both. It is no injustice to these men to say that they are in effect the worst enemies of the Union and of the South, and that they are doing more by their false appeals for peace and conciliation to prevent reconciliation and to bring war than any class of men in the South have power to do.

The fact is, and those who assume to be especial friends of the South in the free states should assure the South of it, that what they mean by "coercion" is proposed by nobody and would be sustained by nobody at the North. The idea that the free states intend to march armies into the seceding states to force their return to loyalty seems too monstrous for serious denial, and yet this is precisely the thing now declared by the partizan Unionists and the democratic leaders to be the purpose of the republicans and of the incoming administration. What is the plain truth in the matter? The republicans deny the right of a state to secede from the Union, and do not admit that the declaration of a majority of the people of any state can separate it from the Union, and there are so few of any party holding the opposite doctrine that this may be set down as the unanimous opinion of all parties in the free states while it is equally the opinion of the most conservative and patriotic portion of the South, as the late bold and admirable speeches of southern members of Congress plainly indicate. On this basis there can be little room for difference of opinion as to the duty of the general government. While it cannot for a moment admit that any state is out of the Union, it cannot compel any state to accept the advantages offered to it by the Union. A state may refuse to be represented in Congress, may prevent the administration of justice by the federal courts, and may give up its mail facilities, or so obstruct them that the government will be compelled to discontinue them. If the state goes further and refuses to let the government collect the revenue on imports, as prescribed by law, then the collections may be made by government vessels stationed at the ports, or the ports may be closed altogether. And this is all the government can do. It involves not a single act of war, or even an indication of hostility, and there never can be war while the government adheres rigidly to this policy, to which it is constitutionally bound. If the rebels attack the government officers while peaceably fulfilling their duties, they must be resisted. But resistance to attack is not "coercion;" much less is it invasion or civil war. If the rebels invade Washington and Gen. Scott repels them, it will not be coercion but defense. Whatever coercion there is will be on the part of the rebels themselves, as it has been thus far in the unhappy controversy. And this is absolutely the whole matter—the defense of the government against warlike assault by armed rebels—over which the South and its pretended friends at the North are raising so great a clamor.

Now what do these enemies of coercion propose to do? Let us have their plan. Would they let the seceding states collect the revenue? But the constitution forbids that; and besides the revenue laws must be enforced in all the states, or they are of value nowhere. Would they have Gen. Scott surrender Washington and the national archives, if Gov. Wise brings up his regiment of Minute Men to bombard it, rather than shed "fraternal blood" in its defense? But it is useless to discuss this subject. Every man of sense must see, and every honest man of whatever party will admit, that there is no course for the general government but to defend itself from attack, and to keep the Union unbroken. We are compelled to doubt both the honesty and the patriotism of the men who are now attempting to get up the false and fallacious anti-coercion issue. It is impossible to believe that they are so stupid as not to see that they are giving direct aid and comfort to treason and counteracting the efforts made to preserve the Union. Besides, it seems to be forgotten, when talking of secession and the South, that there is still a party at the South loyal to the Union. The president has been appealed to by Union men in the seceding states, asking him if no protection can be hoped for by those who still wish to remain citizens of the United States. There is in all the seceding states, except South Carolina, a large and respectable minority, in some of them possibly a majority, who desire still to remain in the Union. The general government has most sacred duties to perform towards these loyal citizens, and though it cannot enter the disaffected states to repress rebellion by force, it is bound to hold the Union together until the popular phrensy and delusion, which constitute the power of secession, subside, and the loyalty and good sense of the southern people have an opportunity to make themselves manifest. It will be time enough to talk about permitting peaceable secession when it is demonstrated that the South cannot recover itself. And if separation must come at last, let it not be by war of the seceding states upon the Union, such as the secessionists have already inaugurated, but by the consent of the states represented in general convention, and by deliberate and solemn act of the whole people, so that the two confederacies may begin at peace and with mutual guarantees for its preservation.