A Few Reflections on Secession

Wilmington Daily Herald, November 9, 1860

It is thought by some persons that a dismemberment of our government is imminent, and almost inevitable; others are more sanguine as to the result of our present difficulties, but all agree that there is some cause for apprehension. The prevailing feeling seems to be rather one of dejection than of undue excitement, although the late exhibition in the city of Charleston, upon the receipt of the news indicating the election of Lincoln, furnishes a remarkable exception to the general sentiment, and, at the same time, indicates a most unfortunate and morbid state of feeling, and a total incapacity among those who would fain occupy the position of leaders in the movement for a separate government at the South.

The telegraph informed us yesterday that the news of Lincoln's election was received in Charleston with great rejoicing, and "long continued cheering for a Southern Confederacy!" Without discussing here the propriety, or the wisdom of 'secession, it may well be suggested that such conduct displays an utter inability to appreciate the importance of the step contemplated by the parties concerned, and partakes more of the character of the sports of a set of liberated school children, than of that more serious spirit which is supposed to govern men who are about to undertake a great, and terrible responsibility—a responsibility involving the destruction of the greatest and best government under the sun, without any reasonable prospect of establishing another as good in its stead, together with the probability of civil war, and a derangement, more or less, of the affairs of the civilized world. But it will not do to avoid a discussion of the question of secession now. It must be met. The more influential of those who favor the movement, are now, and have been for some time, engaged in familiarizing the public with the idea, have been "firing the Southern heart, and instructing the Southern mind" on the subject, and it has now become the imperative duty of every man who entertains a different view of the remedy to be sought by the South, to do all in his power to counteract the effect of these teachings, and to point out the consequences to which they lead. We do not propose to argue the right of secession. The ablest statesmen of the country have differed about that, although the weight of authority is greatly against it; but, admitting the right, there are other considerations which a good man, an honest man and a true patriot cannot disregard. There are a great many so-called rights, incident both to nations and to individuals, which it would be very unwise and impolitic to exercise. There is, too, a vast difference, sometimes, between a legal and a moral right. And it is to the moral and the economical aspect of secession we wish to look. Peaceable secession is an impossibility. The State that secedes must pass through a baptism of blood, in which the garments of her surrounding sisters will be freely dipped, although against their will. Self-defense, which is nature's first law, can alone justify such a course on the part of any State, and the necessity for self-defense does not exist. Any State that exercises the so called right of secession, under any circumstances, does it at the expense of her neighbors, and to that extent, inflicts upon them an injury; and this, when not done in self-defense, nothing can justify. This principle underlies all law human, and divine. And we are not begging the question in asserting that the necessity does not exist. The ostensible reason for secession, and indeed, the only reason given, is the election of Lincoln, and it is admitted that he is powerless to do harm to the South if he desired, inasmuch as he has neither judicial nor legislative power to aid him. To confess this, and attempt to avoid it by anticipating his future ability to do harm, is yielding the position entirely. And in involving other States in the consequences of secession, the injury is not confined to the loss of some blood. The foundations of government are broken up, nationality is destroyed, trade is ruined, the industrial pursuits of the country are stopped, and universal distress, and bankruptcy follow. Is there anything, even in Lincoln's election, to justify all this? It does seem as if our people are tempting the vengeance of God by the madness of their conduct, and their total disregard of the untold blessings he has poured upon us beyond all other people.

As a nation, we possess all the elements of greatness and power.

Peace smiles upon us from all quarters of the globe; a material prosperity, unparalleled in the annals of the world, surrounds us; our territory embraces almost the entire continent; we enjoy wide-spread intelligence, and universal plenty; we are happy, WE ARE FREE, and yet—degrading thought—there are those among us, who, regardless of all, would have us exchange these blessings for the expected benefits of a Southern Confederacy!

Are the enlightened and conservative people of North Carolina desirous of the change? Do they wish, will they submit, to be dragged into revolution and anarchy, and all to please the State of South Carolina, who, by her insufferable arrogance, and conceited self-importance, has been a constant source of annoyance and disquietude to the whole country, North and South, for the last thirty years? Will our people so far forget their independence, and their manhood, as blindly to follow the lead of that State into civil war? Where is the fraternal bond between us? Is it to be seen in the self-sufficiency and offensive air of superiority, which the people of that State have ever exhibited towards the people of this, in all their intercourse, of every kind, with us? We say unhesitatingly, that there are no two adjoining States in the Union, whose people have so little community of feeling as North and South Carolina; and no one State that owes less to another than the former to the latter,—but our people are charitable and generous to a fault, and in this is our danger, and against this we intend to struggle.