Shall We Have a Decided Policy?

Washington States and Union, March 21, 1861

The popular mind is sick and tired of procrastination. Nearly a month has rolled by since the entrance of Mr. Lincoln upon his official duties. He found the country in a most deplorable condition, civil war impending, trade stagnant, the money market depressed, and all eyes fixed upon him to solve the vexed problem. One word would have done it, but he did not utter it. His inaugural was full of shadowy contradistinctions and inconsistencies. It was, to all practical interests and purposes, a miserable shilly-shallying around Robin Hoods barn, meaningless and inexplicable. He was for the dam and against the dam, and no man could say with precision to which side he most leaned. We doubt whether he was quite sure himself. We do not think he fully comprehended the state of affairs, or the exigencies of the occasion. He did not seem, in the only interview we ever had with him, to understand what was required of himself.

The emergency had far surpassed his capacity to judge of its demands. His leading idea seemed to be that a big mob had gotten together with sticks and had rolled the cotton States out of the Union, just as an urchin trondles [sic] his hoop. He did not appear to rise to the conception of a great moral revolution, spreading over a vast stretch of country and arousing an enlightened and gallant people to resistance. His views were narrowed to the one plausible delusion of “preserving the laws,” as though the government could preserve “the laws” in a Territory which had lifted itself by the almighty voice of the people outside of the federal authority without a civil war—as though he could send a collector to Charleston, or a marshal to Montgomery—as though his executive proclamation would weigh a hair with men who had gone so far as to establish a government, elect a President of their own, and declare their independence and assert their nationality before God and the Christian worrdl

The arrant demagogism of such twaddle is too contemptible to be exposed by any other argument than an allusion to the fact that he has not, cannot, and dare not attempt the execution of his bravado en route to this city. Why don’t he sent Helper to Charleston? Why don’t he order a fleet to Montgomery? Why don’t he arrest the “traitors” at present in Washington? Because he knows, as well as we do, that such a course would be impossible and absurd. Because he knows, and we all know, that a Republican government has no power whatever to protect itself, where the people, for whose benefit it was formed, choose to alter, amend, or even annihilate it. The people are the ruling judges, the States independent sovereigns. Where the people cho[o]se to change their political condition, as our own Declaration of Independence first promulgated, they have a right to do so. If the doctrine was good then, it is good now. Call that right by whatever name you please, secession or revolution, it makes no sort of difference. When the power exists, the right is clear, for there is no principle of action more universal than that might is right in all affairs of State.

But these people down South have not attempted to alter, amend, or annihilate this government. Unlike the Republican party, which seeks to encroach upon a vital interest of theirs, they seek no invasion of the rights or interests of the North. Their object is simply a peaceful enjoyment of what it pleases God to give them, to follow the bent of their own will, to mind their own affairs, and molest those of nobody else, to be let alone. If they do not know what is best for them, we don’t know who does; and if they are not competent judges in the matter, then they ought never to have been States.

But, leaving all these things out of the question, as of no practical moment, they are out of the Union, and the Administration is asked for a decided policy toward them—a policy which shall be distinctly peace or war. We are heartsore of balderdash, bravado, and cant. We are tired of shivering, like tottering officeholders, for the hatchet to fall. We are tired of the game of “bluff.” We want Mr. Lincoln to show his hand; we want him to let us know decidedly and unequivocally what he means to do. These are pressing times; everything is going to the devil at a break-neck speed, which must, before long, precipitate his own government in hopeless bankruptcy. The people are clamoring for a poliwcy, the Senate loudly seconds the demand. Only a few broken-down politicians, eager for a hubbub, and stock-jobbing Congressmen, ripe and ready for the bribe and intrigue of a war with its loans and its contracts, are to be found to defend his silence, and they do so merely because it plays into their schemes of fraud and corruption.