« AnteriorContinuar »
this State should now be off without consent or without making any return? The Nation was in debt for money applied to the benefit of these so-called seceding States, in common with the rest. Was it just either that creditors should go unpaid or the remaining States pay the whole ? A part of the national debt in 1860 was contracted to pay the old debts of Texas. Was it just that she should leave and pay no part of this herself?
If one State could secede, so might another; and when all had seceded, none would be left to pay the debts. Was this quite just to creditors ? Did the American people give notice of this sage view when they borrowed the money? If the Nation recognized this doctrine by allowing the seceders to go in peace, it was difficult to see what it could do if others chose to go or to extort terms upon which they would promise to remain.
The seceders insisted that the Constitution admitted of secession. They had assumed to make a national constitution of their own, in which of necessity they either discarded or retained the right of secession as they insisted it existed in the old one. If they discarded it, they thereby admitted that on principle it ought not to be in the old one. If they retained it, by their own construction of the old one, they showed that, to be consistent, they must secede from one another whenever secession might be found to be the easiest way of settling their debts, or effecting any other selfish or unjust object. The principle itself was one of disintegration, and upon which no government could possibly endure.
If all the States, save one, should assert the power to drive that one out of the Union, Mr. Lincoln presumed the whole class of secession politicians would at once deny the power and denounce the act as the greatest outrage upon State rights. But if precisely the same act, instead
of being called “driving the one out,” should be called “the seceding of the others from that one,” it would be exactly what the seceders claimed to do, unless, indeed, they made the point that the one, because it was a minority, might rightfully do what the others, because they were a majority, might not rightfully do. These politicians were subtile and profound on the rights of minorities. They were not partial to that power which made the Constitution and speaks from the preamble calling itself “We, the People.”
The President questioned whether in 1861 there was a majority of the legal qualified voters of any State, except perhaps South Carolina, in favor of disunion. There was much reason to believe that the Union men were the majority in many, if not in every other one of the so-called seceding States. The contrary had not been demonstrated in any one of them. He ventured to affirm this true even of Virginia and Tennessee; for the result of an election held in military camps, where the bayonets were all on one side of the question voted upon, could scarcely be considered as a demonstration of popular sentiment. At such an election, all that large class who were at once for the Union, but against coercion would be coerced to vote against the Union.
It might be affirmed, he said, without extravagance, that our free institutions had developed the powers and improved the condition of our whole people beyond any example in the world. Of this there was a striking and an impressive illustration. So large an army as the government had on foot in 1861, every soldier in it having taken his place of his own free choice, was never before known. But more than this, there were many single regiments whose members, one and another, possessed full practical knowledge of all the arts, sciences, professions, and what
“A PEOPLE'S CONTEST.”
ever else, whether useful or elegant, is known in the world; and there was scarcely one from which there could not be selected a President, a Cabinet, a Congress, and perhaps, a Court, abundantly competent to administer the Government itself. Nor did he deny this to be true also of the army of the Confederacy. If true, so much better the reason why the Government which had conferred such benefits on both North and South should not be broken up. Whoever, in any section, proposed to abandon such a government would do well to consider, in deference to principle, what better he was likely to get in its stead, whether the substitute would give, or was intended to give, so much of good to the people? There were some foreshadowings on this subject. The people of the South had adopted some declarations of independence in which, unlike the good old one, penned by Jefferson, they omitted the words “all men are created equal." They had adopted a temporary national constitution, in the preamble of which, unlike that of the old one, signed by Washington, they omitted “We, the People," and substituted “We, the deputies of the sovereign and independent States.” Why this deliberate pressing out of view the rights of men and the authority of the people ?
It was essentially a people's contest. On the side of the Union it was a struggle "for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men-to lift artificial weights from all shoulders; to clear the paths of laudable pursuits for all; to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance in the race of life. Yielding to partial and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend.
Lincoln believed that the plain people understood and appreciated this. It was worthy of note that while in the
government's hour of trial, large numbers of those in the army and navy, who had been favored with offices, had resigned and proved false to the hand which had pampered them, not one common soldier or common sailor was known to have deserted his flag. To the last man, so far as known, they successfully resisted the traitorous efforts of those whose commands, but an hour before, they had obeyed as absolute law. This was the patriotic instinct of the plain people. They understood, without an argument, that the destruction of the government made by Washington meant no good to them.
Popular government in America had often been called an experiment. Two points in it our people had already settled-its successful establishment and successful administration. One still remained—its successful maintenance against a formidable internal attempt to overthrow it. The time had come for them to demonstrate to the world “that those who can fairly carry an election, can also suppress a rebellion; that ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided, there can be no successful appeal back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal, except to ballots themselves, at succeeding elections."
Lest there might be some uneasiness in the minds of candid men as to what was to be the course of the government toward the Southern States after the rebellion had been suppressed, Mr. Lincoln thought it proper to say that it would be his purpose then, as ever, to be guided by the Constitution and the laws; and that he probably would have no different understanding of the powers and duties of the Federal Government relatively to the rights of the States and the people, under the Constitution, than that he had expressed in the inaugural address.
THE NATIONAL IDE...
He desired to preserve the Government, that it might be administered for all as it was administered by the men who made it. Loyal citizens everywhere had the right to claim this of their Government, and the government had no right to withhold or neglect it. In thus publishing his intentions, the President denied that he meditated coercion, conquest, or subjugation, in any just sense of those terms.
The Constitution provided, and all the States had accepted the provision, that “the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican form of government.” But if a State might lawfully go out of the Union and did go out, it might also discard the republican form of government; so that, to prevent its going out was an indispensable means to the end of maintaining the guarantee mentioned. “When an end is lawful and obligatory,” concluded he, “the indispensable means to it are also lawful and obligatory."1
Lincoln had given utterance to the national idea and, nowhere else is it more clearly expressed. Civil war was to determine whether the government of the people of the United States should be National,—with its foundations deep laid in industrial freedom-or confederate, resting upon the bondsmen's unrequited toil. That Lincoln clearly understood the issue is evident from many of his later utterances as in his first annual message: "It continues to develop,” said he, “that the insurrection is largely, if not exclusively, a war upon the first principle of popular government—the rights of the people. Conclusive evidence of this is found in the most grave and maturely considered public documents as well as in the general tone of the insurgents. In those documents, we find the abridgment of the existing right of suffrage and the
1 Lincoln's Works, II, 57-65.