« PreviousContinue »
It is not my purpose, at this time, to give in detail the inaugural address of President Lincoln, or enter into the minutiæ of that official document' as a whole, but only that part of it which pertains to our affairs with the South and treats on the alleged causes of secession, which I copy verbatim.
Extracts from the inaugural address of President Lincoln, delivered March 4th, 1861:
“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 the duties 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 permanent peace and security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has 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 now exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations, and had 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 which 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 which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend ; and we denounce the lawless invasion, by an armed force, of any State or territory, no matter under what pretext, as the greatest 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 any wise endangered by the now incoming administration. I add, too, that all the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and laws, can be given, will be cheerfully given to all the States, when lawfully demanded, for whatever 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
6 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 law-givers is the law. All members of Congress swear their support to the whole Constitution, - to this provision as much
To the proposition, then, that slaves whose cases come within the terms of this clause shall be delivered up, their oaths are unanimous. Now if they would make the effort, in good temper, would they not, with equal unanimity, frame and pass a law by means of which
as any other
to keep good that unanimous oath ? There is some difference of opinion whether this clause should be enforced by national or State authority; but, surely, that difference is not a very material one. If the slave is to be surrendered, it can be of but little consequence, to him or to others, by what authority it is done; and should any one, in any case, be content that his oaths should go 'unkept, 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 control the Constitution or laws by any 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 that 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 greatly distinguished citizens have, in succession, administered the executive branch of 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 constitutional term of four years, under grave and peculiar difficulties.
“A disruption of the federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted. I hold that, in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments; 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 Constitution, 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 compact merely, can it as a compact be peaceably unmade, by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a compact 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 by 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 Confederation in 1778, and, finally, in 1789.
“One of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was to form a more perfect Union ; but if destruction 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 or 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 enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my part, and shall perform it so far as practicable, unless my rightful masters, the American people, shall withdraw the requisition, or in some authoritative manner direct the contrary. I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared purpose of the Union, that it will constitutionally defend and maintain itself. In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national authority.
“ The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and collect the duties and imposts; but, beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no urging of force against or among the people, anywhere. Where hostility to the United States, in any. interior territory, shall be so great and so universal as to prevent the competent resident citizens from holding the federal offices, there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers among people that object. While the strict legal right may exist for the government to enforce the exercise of those offices, the attempt to do so would be so irritating, and so nearly impracticable withal, that I deem it better to forego, for the time, the uses of such offices.
“The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished in all parts of the Union, so far as possible. The people, everywhere, shall have that sense of perfect security which is most favorable to calm thought and reflection. The course here indicated will be followed, unless current events and experience shall show a modification or change