The President's Message
Utica Daily Observer, December 7, 1860
Probably no public document issued since the organization of our government was ever read with greater interest than the Annual Message of President Buchanan, which has just been placed before the American people. No such crisis in political affairs as that which now agitates the minds of all men, has ever occurred in our history; never have the people looked more eagerly in every direction for some escape from the calamities which seem impending. No President has ever been called upon to write a Message under more embarrassing circumstances; no officer has ever been expected to adjust difficulties so far beyond his control, or to suggest relief where human wisdom has thus far proved so utterly at fault.
If the Message fails to point out any available mode of speedy relief to the country, its deficiency in this respect is owing to the difficulty of the case with which the President has to deal. The document carries upon its face evidences of patriotic spirit and lofty purpose, and a very clear conception of the lamentable difficulties which beset the country. It displays deep and earnest thought, and abounds in striking suggestions. If it does not suggest satisfactory means of relief, it certainly gives to every reader a more realizing sense of the critical danger of our present condition. Perhaps in doing this, it has done the greatest service which could have been done the country. The great obstacle in the way of relief has been and is yet, the sturdy obstinacy of the great majority, in refusing to believe the evidences, which are daily accumulating, that the continued existence of the Union can hardly be hoped for.
The picture drawn by the President of the evil effects of the slavery agitation, and of the violations of the Constitution by Northern legislatures, is too true to be denied or evaded. Whether we may agree with him or not in all that he says, no one can palliate the bitterly hostile feeling which has been nursed into existence by designing politicians, among a large portion of the northern and southern people, against each other. The results of this feeling, manifested at the North in nullifying legislation and in the election of a President on a strictly sectional issue, and at the South in direct and deliberate movements towards disunion, are but indications of the sentiments of the sections towards each other. So long as this feeling exists, so long our institutions are in danger. Legislative acts and official declarations are of little consequence, unless this feeling can be changed.
The suggestions of the Message show how completely our form of government relies upon the confidence and kind feeling of the people for its continued existence. The employment of force to preserve it is out of the question. It is shown very clearly that the right of secession does not exist; yet of what avail is the strongest argument in this behalf, when States determine to secede, right or wrong, and when it is admitted on all hands that to retain them in the Union by coercion would be an absurdity?
The remedy which the President proposes,—an amendment to the Constitution,—presents perhaps the only available cure for the evils which exist. Such a remedy would be valuable chiefly as an indication of a change of sentiment on the part of the Northern people towards those of the South. Additional constitutional guaranties to slavery would be of no avail, unless the Northern people are disposed to stand by them in good faith. Congressional protection of slavery in the territories would be ineffectual to extend the institution, but would show simply a willingness on the part of the Northern people to give those of the South every advantage to which they had a shadow of a claim. In approving or disapproving these recommendations, we must remember that the question is not whether they meet exactly our own views, but whether we are prepared to concede so much for the preservation of the Union.—It must be evident to every candid mind that the Union is on the verge of dissolution, and can be saved, if at all, only by some new compromise, some prompt and decided proof that the North will not invade the rights of the South. The question is not what we regard as sound and correct doctrine in the abstract, but what compromises we are willing to adopt to prevent the result now impending over the country. In other words, what sacrifices of principle are we willing to make, to secure the continued existence of the American Union?
What compromises the North is willing to make, what guaranties she is willing to give, depends upon the Republican party. That party holds the power in every Northern Legislature, with insignificant exceptions. The Northern Democracy have labored against the popular current for many years to prevent the calamity which is now upon us. Their efforts have been in vain, and their worst forebodings have been realized. They are now powerless, and will remain so until another annual election.—But what is done must be done before that period. It may very gravely be doubted, whether it is not already too late.