Page images
PDF
EPUB

the questions upon which the fate of the country now hangs. [Applause in the galleries.]

Jefferson Davis [Miss.] deplored the spirit in which emendations of Senator Powell's resolution had been offered.

One Senator presents, as a cure for the public evil impending over us, to invest the Federal Government with such physical power as properly belongs to monarchy alone. Another announces that his constituents cling to the Federal Government if its legislative favors and its treasury secure the works of improvement and facilities which they desire; while another rises to point out that the evils of the land are of a party character. Sir, we have fallen upon evil times, indeed, if the great convulsion which now shakes the body-politic to its center is to be dealt with by such quack nostrums as these. Men must look more deeply, must rise to a higher altitude; like patriots, they must confront the danger face to face, if they hope to relieve the evils which now disturb the peace of the land and threaten the destruction of our political existence.

First of all, we must inquire what is the cause of the evils which beset us! The diagnosis of the disease must be stated before we are prepared to prescribe. Is it the fault of our legislation here? If so, then it devolves upon us to correct it, and we have the power. Is it the defect of the federal organization, of the fundamental law of our Union? I hold that it is not. Our fathers, learning wisdom from the experiments of Rome and of Greece—the one a consolidated republic, and the other strictly a confederacy—and taught by the lessons of our own experiment under the Confederation, came together to form a constitution for “a more perfect union,” and, in my judgment, made the best government which has ever been instituted by man. It required only that it should be carried out in the spirit in which it was made; that the circumstances under which it was made should continue, and no evil can arise under this Government for which it has not an appropriate remedy. Then it is outside of the Government-elsewhere than to its Constitution, or to its administration—that we are to look. Men must not creep in the dust of partisan strife and seek to make points against opponents as the means of evading or meeting the issues before us. The fault is not in the form of the Gov. ernment, nor does the evil spring from the manner in which it has been administered. Where, then, is it? It is that our

[ocr errors]

ers.

fathers formed a government for a union of friendly States; and, though under it the people have been prosperous beyond comparison with any other whose career is recorded in the history of man, still that union of friendly States has changed its character and sectional hostility has been substituted for the fraternity in which the Government was founded.

The hearts of a portion of the people have been perverted by that hostility, so that the powers delegated by the compact of union are regarded, not as means to secure the welfare of all, but as instruments for the destruction of a part, the minority section. How, then, have we to provide a remedy? By strengthening this Government! By instituting physical force to overawe the States, to coerce the people living under them as members of sovereign communities to pass under the yoke of the Federal Government? No, sir; I would have this Union severed into thirty-three fragments sooner than have that great evil befall constitutional liberty and representative government. Our Government is an agency of delegated and strictly limited pow

Its founders did not look to its preservation by force; but the chain they wove to bind these States together was one of love and mutual good offices. They had broken the fetters of despotic power; they had separated themselves from the mother country upon the question of community independence; and their sons will be degraded indeed if, clinging to the mere name and forms of government, they forge and rivet upon their posterity the fetters which their ancestors broke.

But it has been said that we should not discuss the cause of existing evils. Then how are we to ascertain the appropriate remedy? It is our duty to discuss the cause and confront the danger as men resolved to perform the public service as best may serve the common good, and equally resolved not to engage in a scramble of party strife and crimination, either for party or personal advantage. It is only by laying bare the disease that we are to find a remedy. It is an ulcer. Cautery, not

. plasters, must be applied to it.

Then where is the remedy ? the question may be asked. In the hearts of the people, is the ready reply; and, therefore, it is that I turn to the other side of the Chamber, to the majority section, to the section in which have been committed the acts that now threaten the dissolution of the Union.

I call on you, the representatives of that section, here and now to say so, if your people are not hostile; if they have the fraternity with which their fathers came to form this Union; if they are prepared to do justice; to abandon their opposition to the Constitu

tion and the laws of the United States; to recognize and to maintain and to defend all the rights and benefits the Union was designed to promote and to secure. Give us that declaration, give us that evidence of the will of your constituency to restore us to our original position, when mutual kindness was the ani. mating motive, and then we may hopefully look for remedies which may suffice; not by organizing armies, not so much by enacting laws, as by repressing the spirit of hostility and lawlessness, and seeking to live up to the obligations of good neighbors and friendly States united for the common welfare.

To dwell upon anti-fugitive slave laws is to deal with the symptom only valuable as it indicates the disease which demands attention. What though all the personal liberty bills" were repealed: would that secure our rights? Would that give us the Union our fathers made? Would that renew good offices, or restrain raids and incendiarism, or prevent schools being founded to prepare missionaries to go into lands where they are to sow the seeds of insurrection, and, wearing the livery of heaven, to serve the devil by poisoning wells and burning towns ? These are offences such as no people can bear; and the remedy for these is in the patriotism and the affection of the people if it exists; and, if it does not exist, it is far better, instead of attempting to preserve a forced and therefore fruitless Union, that we should peacefully part and each pursue his separate course. It is not to this side of the Chamber that we should look for propositions; it is not here that we can ask for remedies. Complaints, with much amplitude of specification, have gone forth from the members on this side of the Chamber heretofore. It is not to be expected that they will be renewed, for the people have taken the subject into their own hands. States, in their sovereign capacity, have now resolved to judge of the infractions of the federal compact and of the mode and measure of redress. All we can usefully or properly do is to send to the people thus preparing to act for themselves evidence of error, if error there be; to transmit to them the evi. dence of kind feeling, if it actuates the Northern section, where they now believe there is only hostility. If we are mistaken as to your feelings and purposes, give a substantial proof, that here may begin that circle which hence may spread out and cover the whole land with proofs of fraternity, of a reaction in public sentiment, and the assurance of a future career in conformity with the principles and purposes of the Constitution. All else is idle. I would not give the parchment on which the bill would be written which is to secure our constitutional

a

rights within the limits of a State where the people are all opposed to the execution of that law. It is a truism in free governments that laws rest upon public opinion and fall powerless before its determined opposition.

The time has passed, sir, when appeals might profitably be made to sentiment. The time has come when men must, of necessity, reason, assemble facts, and deal with current events. I may be permitted in this to correct an error into which one of my friends fell this morning, when he impressed on us the great value of our Union as measured by amount of time and money and blood which were spent to form this Union. It cost very little time, very little money, and no blood. It was one of the most peaceful transactions that mark the pages of human history.

But our existing Government is not the less sacred to me because it was not sealed with blood. I honor it the more because it was the free-will offering of men who chose to live together. It rooted in fraternity; and fraternity supported its trunk and all its branches. Every bud and leaflet depends entirely on the nurture it receives from fraternity, as the root of the tree. When that is destroyed, the trunk decays and the branches wither and the leaves fall; and the shade it was designed to give has passed away forever. I cling not merely to the name and the form but to the spirit and purpose of the Union which our fathers made. It was for domestic tranquillity; not to organize within one State lawless bands to commit raids upon another. It was to provide for the common defence; not to disband armies and navies lest they should serve the protection of one section of the country better than another. It was to bring the forces of all the States together to achieve a common object, upholding each the other in amity, and united to repel exterior force. Every barrier to the freest intercourse was swept away. Under the Confederation it had been secured as a right to each citizen to have free transit over all the other States; and under the Union it was designed to make this more perfect. Is it enjoyed? Is it not denied ? Do we not have mere speculative question of what is property raised in defiance of the clear intent of the Constitution, offending as well against its letter as its whole spirit? This must be reformed, or the Government our fathers instituted is destroyed. I say, then, shall we cling to the mere forms, or idolize the name of Union, when its blessings are lost, after its spirit has filed? Who would keep a flower which had lost its beauty and its fragrance and in their stead had formed a seed-vessel containing the deadliest poison? Or, to drop the figure, who would consent to remain in alliance with States which used the power thus acquired to invade his tranquillity, to impair his defence, to destroy his peace and security! Any community would be stronger standing in an isolated position, and using its revenues to maintain its own physical force, than if allied with those who would thus war upon its prosperity and domestic peace; and reason, pride, self-interest, and the apprehension of secret, constant danger would impel to separation.

I do not comprehend the policy of a Southern Senator who would seek to change the whole form of our Government and substitute Federal force for State obligations and authority. Do we want a new Government that is to overturn the old! Do we wish to erect a central Colossus, wielding at discretion the military arm and exercising military force over the people and the States? This is not the Union to which we were invited; and, so carefully was this guarded that, when our fathers provided for using force to put down insurrection, they required that the fact of the insurrection should be communicated to the authorities of the State before the President could interpose. When it was proposed to give to Congress power to execute the laws against a delinquent State, it was refused on the ground that that would be making war on the States; and, though I know the good purpose of my honorable friend from Missouri (Senator Green] is only to give protection to constitutional rights, I fear his proposition is to rear a monster which will break the feeble chain provided and destroy rights it was intended to guard. That military government which he is about to institute, by passing into hostile hands, becomes a weapon for his destruction, not for his protection.

This Union is dear to me as a union of fraternal States. It would lose its value if I had to regard it as a union held together by physical force. I would be happy to know that every State now felt that fraternity which made this Union possible; and, if that evidence could go out, if evidence satisfactory to the people of the South could be given that that feeling existed in the hearts of the Northern people, you might burn your statute-books and we would cling to the Union still. But it is because of their conviction that hostility and not fraternity now exists in the hearts of the people, that they are looking to their reserved rights, and to their independent powers for their own protection. If there be any good, then, which we can do it is by sending evidence to them of that which I fear does not exist -the purpose of your constituents to fulfill in the spirit of jus

« PreviousContinue »