The Right of Secession
Trenton Daily State Gazette and Republican, December 6, 1860
The recent threat of South Carolina to secede from the Confederacy has called forth considerable discussion among the journals of the country as to whether a State has, or has not, a right to secede—some contending for, and others against, the right of secession. Those who contend for the right say, that each State is an independent sovereignty, and, as such, has a perfect right to do its own sovereign will and pleasure without regard to the wishes of any other State or sovereignty; while those who contend against the right of secession take the position, that, though each State is a sovereignty, yet it is not absolutely, but only conditionally, so—that is to say, it is sovereign so far as relates to its State regulations, but not sovereign as to any powers confided to the General Government by the Constitution of the country.
We are of those who believe that no State has the right to secede; nor do we believe in submitting to any measures of mere expediency, when the basis for such measures must be founded upon a wrong. South Carolina may secede, so far as words and paper resolutions go; but when ABRAHAM LINCOLN takes his seat on the 4th of March next, he will tell them in a language not to be misunderstood, that secession can not be, and will not be, permitted.
The nature of the American government is in many respects, different from any that has ever existed. It is a government of checks and balances; the federal government has its limits, and the States have their sovereign rights. The questions upon which our political parties have divided have generally been such as involved the consideration of these respective sovereignties—national and State.
When the thirteen provinces—all of them having less than three millions of people—fell like unripe fruit from the parent stem they had no permanent connection with each other; they were united only by consanguinity of race, common interests, and most of all, a common cause. They were independent States, in league through their congress, as the nations of Europe may be to-day, for mutual protection. That congress proposed a convention to form a confederation, but it was not till more than a year after the Declaration of Independence that the articles of confederation were agreed to and submitted to the several States; and it was not till 1781, or nearly five years after the Declaration, that Maryland, the last to accede, came into the league, and the confederation was perfected. The object of that confederation was declared to be a "PERPETUAL UNION," but it was soon found that the States had not conceded sufficient powers for the general government properly to regulate the revenues and the public credit, and in 1787 congress adopted a proposition for a convention at Philadelphia, for the purpose of "REVISING" the articles of confederation, to render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of the government and the preservation of the Union.
The convention of 1787, instead of revising the old confederation, formed and submitted the constitution—which did not abrogate the "PERPETUAL UNION" already existing, but proposed a "MORE PERFECT UNION,"—a union that should consolidate the States for specific purposes. This constitution did not provide for its own destruction, any more than God has provided man with the right and powers of suicide.
We may see the absurdity of peaceful secession, by examining its practical operations. We see Virginia, for instance, ceding to the National Government her vast interests in the Northwest, and even agreeing, with a generosity that it would be well for the North to remember and reciprocate, that it should be free forever, and formed into other States. Who believes that Virginia would thus have acted, if she had not thought the government permanent? Would she have said, here, take these lands and make of them five free States, if those States one and all of them, the day after their organization, would have the liberty of seceding from the Union, and become rivals of herself? Then we purchased Louis[i]ana and Florida, and paid large sums of money for Texas and California—for what?—that they might secede the next day? Preposterous proposition! What a fine idea it would be to pay a hundred millions of dollars for Cuba, as Mr. Buchanan proposed, and give to Cuba the right of becoming independent immediately, and that without a why or wherefore from us! And what wisdom we should show, to expend millions to clear the rivers and harbors of Michigan, or to build the Pacific railroad through Kansas, when to-morrow Michigan by her own will and against our wishes might be united to Canada, and Kansas set up independent under some military dictator! How could we ever declare war, or make peace, or have national revenue or credit under such an arrangement?
The right of secession, as the South term it, is a sham of shams, a humbug of humbugs, as gross a delusion as political insanity ever conjured up. We are one nation from many States; and for better or worse are we to remain so for ever, or till treason and revolution blot the stars from our banner; and God grant that they may not fall as long as supernal powers hold the stars in the heavens.