« PreviousContinue »
Anxiety for tho Inaugural
ment that we claim for ourselves; that we are in nowise disposed, if it were in our power, to oppress you, to deprive you of any of your rights under the Constitution of the United States, or even narrowly to split hairs with you in regard to those rights, but are determined to give you, as far as lies in our hands, all your rights under the Constitutionnot grudgingly, but fully and fairly. I hope that, by thus dealing with you, we will become better acquainted, and be better friends. And now, my friends, with these few remarks, and again returning my thanks for this compliment, and expressing my desire to hear a little more of your good music, I bid you good-night.”
Never, in the history of the country, has the inaugural address of any President been so anxiously awaited as was that of Mr. Lincoln. The most of his countrymen, even in States whose loyalty to the Government was beyond suspicion, were certain to be disappointed, whatever that inaugural might prove to be. An impression prevailed, for which no good grounds could be shown, that somehow, in some inexplicable way, this particular address would operate as a panacea to beal the nation's malady. One class, who knew not the man, hoped, almost against hope, that such concessions would be made to the rebels as would bridge over existing difficulties, and restore the good old times when men could vend their goods and principles—or what served them in lieu thereof—without being annoyed by war or rumor of war. Anotber would be satisfied with nothing short of the most positive and unqualified denunciations of the rebels, coupled with the details in advance of dealing with them. Still another were simply curious in the premises to know what could be said. Whisperings, too, that the address would be prevented by violence, and hints of assassination were heard here and there.
All necessary precautions, however, having been taken to guard against the latter contingencies, Mr. Lincoln appeared
Protection of the South.
at the east front of the capitol, and received, at the hour appointed, the oath of office from Chief Justice Taney. Then followed, in a clear, steady tone of voice, in the presence of more than ten thousand of his fellow-citizens, the address :
"FELLOW-CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES :-In compliance with a custom as old as the Government itself, I appear before you to address you briefly, and to take, in your presence, the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States to be taken by the President before he enters on the execution of his office.
"I do not consider it necessary, at present, for me to discuss those matters of administration about which there is no special anxiety or excitement. Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States, that, by the accession of a Republican Administration, their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary bas all the while existed, and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches, when I declare that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.' I believe I have no lawful right to do so; and I bave no inclination to do so. Those who nominated and elected me, did so with the full knowledge that I had made this, and made many similar declarations, and bad never recanted them. And, more than this, they placed in the platform, for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution wbich I now read :
“'Resolved, that the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on wbich the perfection and endurance of our political fabrio
Return of Fugitive Slaves.
depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion, by armed force, of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter under wbat pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.'
"I now reiterate these sentiments; and in doing so I only press upon the public attention the most conclusive evidence of which the case is susceptible, that the property, peace and security of no section are to be in anywise endangered by the now incoming administration.
"I add, too, that all the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and the laws, can be given, will be cheerfully given to all the States when lawfully demanded, for wbatever cause, as cheerfully to one section as to another.
“ There is much controversy about the delivering up of fugitives from service or labor. The clause I now read is as plainly written in the Constitution as any other of its provisions :
"No person held to service or labor in one State under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.'
“It is scarcely questioned that this provision was intended by those who made it for the reclaiming of what we call fugitive slaves; and the intention of the lawgiver is the law.
“All members of Congress swear their support to the whole Constitution—to this provision as well as any other. To the proposition, then, that slaves whose cases come within the terms of this clause "shall be 'delivered up,' their outbs are unanimous. Now, if they would make the effort in good temper, could they not, with nearly equal unanimity, frame and pass a law by means of which to keep good that unanimous oatb?
“ There is some difference of opinion whether this clause should be enforced by National or by State authority; but surely that difference is not a very material one. If the slave
Disruption of the Union
is to be surrendered, it can be of but little consequence to bim or to others by which authority it is done; and should any one, in any case, be conteot that this oath shall go un*kept on a merely unsubstantial controversy as to how it shall be kept ?
“ Again, in any law upon this subject, ought not all the safeguards of liberty known in civilized and humane jurisprudence to be introduced, so that a free man be not, in any case, surrendered as a slave ? And might it not be well at the same time to provide by law for the enforcement of that clause in the Constitution which guarantees that 'the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States ?'
“I take the official oath to-day with no mental reservations, and with no purpose to construe the Constitution or laws by ang hypercritical rules; and while I do not choose now to specify particular acts of Congress as proper to be enforced, I do suggest that it will be much safer for all, both in official and private stations, to conform to and abide by all those acts which stand unrepealed, than to violate any of them, trusting to find impunity in having them held to be unconstitutional.
"It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a President under our National Constitution. During that period, fifteen different and very distinguished citizens, bave in succession administered the executive branch of the Government. They have conducted it through many perils, and generally with great success. Yet, with all this scope for precedent, I now enter upon the same task, for the brief con. stitutional term of four years, under great and peculiar difficulties.
“A disruption of the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted. I hold that in the contem. plation of universal law and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not ex: pressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments
Union older than Constitution.
It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Consti tution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it, except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.
“ Again, if the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of a contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it-break it, so to speak; but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it? Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that in legal contemplation the Union is perpetual, confirmed by the history of the Union itself.
“ The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued in the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of the Confederation, in 1778; and, finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was to form a more perfect Union. But if the destruction of the Union by one or by a part only of the States be lawfully possible, the Union is less than before, the Constitution having lost the vital element of perpetuity.
“It follows from these views that no State, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union ; that resolves and ordinances to that effect, are legally void ; and that acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States, are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.
"I therefore consider that, in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is unbroken, and, to the extent of my ability, I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly