The Age of Brass
St. Paul Daily Press, January 9, 1861
We admire impudence. Downright effrontery we respect. A patronizing manner always awes us into submission. How can we, then, fail to regard with due veneration the present condition of the Southern malcontents and their Northern allies towards the Republican party? In it, impudence the most sublime, effrontery hitherto unequalled, and the patronizing airs of a thousand Howards are commingled.
The whole motely of our opponents unite in demanding something from us—agree in threatening something, if these demands are not granted.
What has the Republican party done—what left undone—to warrant demands of any kind? It has never been in power in the nation; it cannot, therefore, be held responsible for any one of the numberless misdeeds which have stained the administration of government these late years. It proposes, no violation of the Constitution, the fundamental law of the land. It has never, in any instance, sanctioned any such violation. Indeed it is just coming into power because people are determined that the government shall be taken from those who have shamefully violated that Constitution. It proposes administering the government in consonance with the principles which led to its establishment. This is the extent of its offence. If the Republicans insisted upon a bond from the adherents of the present administration that they would not turn traitors when out of power, there might be some propriety in the demand, though we question whether such a bond would afford any security; but for them to demand stipulations from us, under the circumstances, is the height of impudence.
But what demands are made upon the Republican party? It is difficult to tell. Scarcely any two notes are pitched upon the same key. The most mutter and mumble something about a compromise—intangible, vague, indefinite—yet the nearest approximation to an idea, seemingly, which our opponents can grasp. Now, a compromise presupposes two parties with conflicting claims. Republicans recognize no such parties under the Constitution.—They are content with the charter as it is. They ask no alteration. They mean that its principles shall be faithfully and impartially carried out. If there are those who demand more, or expect anything essentially different, they are outside of the Constitution, and therefore not entitled to a hearing.
Granting, however, that a hearing is to be afforded—what are we to accede, we ask again? "An express admission that slaves are recognized in the Constitution as property, and that such property is to be protected in the Territories, to the same extent as all other property is protected?"—say some. It cannot be done. We deny that slavery is recognized under the Constitution in any other light than as an artificial system of labor existing at the time of its adoption in certain States. To that extent—the constitutional extent—we go; but no further. If we are told that the Supreme court has so decided, we deny that a legal decision to that effect has been made. When it is made, if ever, we shall not cease agitating until the correct construction is put upon it.
"The incorporation of the Missouri Compromise principle in the Constitution," say others. We cannot do it. We contend that the normal condition of the Territories of the United States is freedom. We deny the right of any body of men to legalize the institution of slavery therein. Besides, supposing such a concession were made, we are dependent upon the Supreme Court for the construction of such an amendment. From past experience, it is impossible for us to be certain what that tribunal might choose to decide that we had admitted by such an amendment. Obsta principus, is the safest maxims here. [sic] We had no idea when we hurrahed over the compromise of 1850 that we had thereby abolished the Missouri Compromise. As it has since been strenuously claimed that we did, we prefer henceforth being upon the safe side. We are content to "let well enough alone."
"The repeal of the 'Personal Liberty Bills' of various States," say still others. That is none of our business. Each State must judge for itself, in the first instance, of the propriety of its legislative acts. If the unconstitutionality of any enactment is established, it goes at once by the board.
"Put down the anti-slavery feeling of the North," cry others. As well might we be asked to suspend thought, to waive judgment, to stifle reason. It cannot be done. The convictions of the mass of the inhabitants of the Free States, of all parties, relative to that institution are not of such a nature that they can be whistled down the wind at bidding. A breath did not make them, nor can a breath unmake them. We have trained ourselves to discharge our duties under the Constitution relative to the system. Thus far we can pledge ourselves. Thus far we have, over and over again, shown ourselves ready to go. Beyond it we cannot move—not one inch.
This is the sum and substance of the whole matter. Any one can see how senseless is all the clamor of those who spend their days in charging Republicans with the responsibility for the present disordered state of affairs. That clamor, however, will not cease just yet. "Those tuneful peals will still ring on" while there is the slightest ground for expecting that a concession of principles can be extorted from us. All that we have to do, is to stand firm. We have embarked in this struggle, conscious that it would be no holiday play. Those who have long enjoyed the sweets of power do not relinquish them without an effort. Dry husks do not hold out an enticing prospect for them. We purpose seeing the contest out. If there are any bearing our name who have not enlisted heartily with us, let them leave us at once. We have no room for such. If there are any in our ranks who cannot endorse decisive words, they have mistaken their place. "Men in earnest have no time to waste in patching fig-leaves for the naked truth." If there are any who in this age of brass are frightened by the jangling and clanging and clashing around, we beg them to fill their ears with cotton and retire from the busy scenes of active life as speedily as possible.
We propose understanding, once for all, of what Chinese thunder is made.