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LINCOLN ON SECESSION.
cases after the separation of the sections than before. The foreign slave-trade, then imperfectly suppressed, would be ultimately revived, without restriction, in one section, while fugitive slaves, then only partially surrendered, would not be surrendered at all by the other.
Physically speaking, the people could not separate. They could not remove the North and the South from each other, nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife might be divorced, and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other; but the different parts of our country could not do this. They must remain face to face, and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Was it possible, then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory after separation than before? Could aliens make treaties easier than friends could make laws? Could treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens than laws among friends? Suppose North and South went to war; they could not fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides, and no gain on either, they ceased fighting, the identical old questions as to terms of intercourse would arise.
“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it."
But Lincoln went further than merely to uncloak the central idea of secession; he gave utterance, more completely than it had ever been given before, to the idea of nationality founded upon industrial freedom. The issue, said he, in his message convening Congress in special session, on the fourth of July, expressed more than the fate
1 Lincoln's Works, II, 5-6.
LINCOLN ON SECESSION,
of the United States. It represented to the whole family of man the question whether a constitutional republic, or democracy—a government of the people, by the same people—could or could not maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes. It presented the question whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control administration according to organic law in any case, could always, upon the pretenses made in the case of South Carolina, or upon any other pretenses, or arbitrarily without any pretense, break up their government, and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth. It compelled the question: "Is there in all republics this inherent and fatal weakness ?” “Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own exist
Viewing the issue in this light, the President had no choice but to call out the war power of the government, and to resist force, employed for its destruction, with force employed for its preservation.
“It might seem, at first thought,” said Mr. Lincoln, “to be of little difference whether the movement at the South was called 'secession' or 'rebellion. The movers, however, well understand the difference. At the beginning they knew they could never raise their treason to any respectable magnitude by any name which implied violation of the law. They knew that their people possessed as much moral sense, as much devotion to law and order, and as much pride in the history of the government of their common country, and reverence for it, as any other civilized and patriotic people. They knew they could make no advancement directly in the teeth of these strong and noble sentiments. Accordingly, they commenced by an insidious debauching of the public mind. They in
LINCOLN ON SECESSION.
vented an ingenious sophism, which, if conceded, was followed by perfectly logical steps, through all the incidents, to the complete destruction of the Union. The sophism itself was that any State of the Union may consistently with the National Constitution, and therefore lawfully and peacefully, withdraw from the Union without the consent of the Union, or of any other State. The little disguise, that the supposed right was to be exercised only for just cause, themselves to be the sole judges of its justice, was too thin to merit
notice. “With rebellion thus sugar-coated, they had been drugging the public mind of their section for more than thirty years, until at length they had brought many good men, who could have been brought to no such thing before, to a willingness to take up arms against the Government, the day after the Southern conventions had enacted the farcical pretense of taking their States out of the Union.
“This sophism derived much, perhaps the whole of its currency, from the assumption that there was some omnipotent and sacred supremacy pertaining to a State-to each State of the Federal Union. The States have neither more nor less power than that reserved to them in the Union by the Constitution—no one of them ever having been a State out of the Union. The original ones passed into the Union even before they cast off their British colonial dependence; and each of the new ones came into the Union directly from a condition of dependence, excepting Texas, and even Texas, in its temporary independence, was never designated a State. The new ones only took the designation of States, on coming into the Union, while that name was first adopted by the old ones, in and by the Declaration of Independence, which declared the ‘United Colonies' to be 'free and independent States.' Even then the object plainly was not to declare
LINCOLN ON SECESSION.
their independence of one another or of the Union, but directly the contrary; as their mutual pledge and their mutual action before, at the time, and afterward, abundantly showed. The express plighting of faith by each and all of the original thirteen, in the Articles of Confederation, two years later, that the Union should be perpetual, was most conclusive.
“Having never been States either in substance or in name outside of the Union, whence then this magical omnipotence of 'State Rights,' asserting a claim of power to lawfully destroy the Union itself? Much had been said about the ‘sovereignty of the States; but even the word, said the President, was not in the National Constitution, nor, as he believed, in any of the State constitutions. In the political sense of the term it would not be far wrong to define sovereignty as “a political community without a political superior.' By this test no one of the States except Texas ever was a sovereignty. 'And even Texas gave up the character on coming into the Union; by which act she acknowledged the Constitution of the United States, and the laws and treaties of the United States made in pursuance of the Constitution, to be for her the supreme law of the land.' The States have their status in the Union, and no other legal status. They can break from this, only against the law, and by revolution. The Union, not the States themselves, separately, procured their independence and their liberty. By conquest or purchase, the Union had given each of them whatever of independence or liberty it promised. “The Union is older than any of the States, and, in fact, it created them as States. Originally some independent colonies made the Union, and, in turn, the Union threw off their old dependence for
1 For the use of the word in the State Constitutions, see Vol. I, pp. 169-173.
LINCOLN ON SECESSION.
them, and made them States, such as they are. Not one of them ever had a State's constitution independent of the Union. Of course, it is not forgotten that all the new States framed their constitutions before they entered the Union-nevertheless, dependent upon and preparatory to coming into the Union.'
“Unquestionably, the States have the powers and rights reserved to them in and by the National Constitution; but among these surely are not included all conceivable powers, however mischievous or destructive, but, at most, such only as were known in the world at the time as governmental powers; and certainly a power to destroy the government itself had never been known as a governmental, as a merely administrative power. Thus relative matter of national power and State rights, as principle, is no other than the principle of generality and locality. Whatever concerns the whole should be confided to the whole-to the General Government; while whatever concerns the State should be left exclusively to the State.” This embodies all there is of original principle in State rights. Whether the National Constitution in defining boundaries between the two has applied the principle with exact accuracy, could not be questioned. All were bound by that definition.
Lincoln combated the position that secession was consistent with the Constitution was lawful and peaceful. No one had contended that there was any express law for it; and nothing can be implied as law, which leads to unjust or absurd consequences. The Nation purchased with money the countries out of which several of the States were formed. Was it just that they should go off without leave and.without refunding? The Nation paid very large sums (in the aggregate, nearly a hundred millions) to relieve Florida of the aboriginal tribes. Was it just that