Page images
PDF
EPUB

should be expelled. Whether this was a true statement of the agreement or not, General McClellan did nothing inconsistent with it, although he afterwards denied Buckner's statement of the results of the consultation. The occupation and defense of important points upon the bank of the river opposite Cincinnati were abandoned, and, in a letter to Mr. Crittenden, he disclaimed all responsibility for the intrusion of a body of General Prentiss' men, who had landed on the Kentucky shore and brought away a secession flag. The General, it was eviilent, did not comprehend the character of the rebellion, or he failed to recognize the fact that in such a struggle there could be no such thing as the neutrality which Kentucky was professedly desirous to maintain.

The tenderness of the government, as well as of the generals it had appointed, toward slavery, is worthy of note at this juncture. Mr. Lincoln had always taken great pains to show that he respected the legal rights of slavery under the Constitution. The republicans, in national convention and in Congress, had done the same. The three democratic generals it had placed in command—Butler, Patterson and McClellanwent a step further, and promised in advance that they would not only not interfere with slavery, but would assist the rebels in putting down a slave insurrection. General Butler, of the three, experienced a healthy reaction from this devotion to slavery at an early day.

Western Virginia was loyal, and, on the seventeenth of June, in convention at Wheeling, repudiated the ordinance of secession passed by the state convention, and promptly inaugurateıl a new state government, with Francis H. Pierpoint for Governor. This was the first step toward “reconstruction,” and it was taken under the direct sanction of Mr. Lincoln. The doctrine of secession thus early returned to plague the inventors. Rebel forces and rebel sympathizers were of course in Western Virginia; and a campaign was inaugurated there, early in June, for the expulsion of these forces from the territory. General Rosecrans and General Thomas A. Morris had this campaign in hand, and, on the twenty-third of June, General McClellan arrived. On the tenth of July, a skirmish was had with the rebels at Laurel Hill, and two days later the battle of Rich Mountain was fought, which resulted in the defeat and surrender of the rebel Colonel Pegram, with a thousand men. This did not compass the successes of the day. General Garnett who was bringing supports to General Pegram was pursued, his forces routed, and himself killed. This temporarily cleaned out the enemy from Western Virginia. General McClellan's dispatch to the war department announcing this very grateful victory was direct, spirited and well written, and immediately attracted the attention of the country. These successes in Western Virginia, together with the Napoleonic manner of their announcement, paved the way to that wonderful popular confidence which was afterward accorded to the commanding general, although he had very little to do in planning the campaign in which they were won, or the battles by which they were secured.

Congress, according to the proclamation of the President, had assembled on the fourth of July, and was of course in session when the successes in Western Virginia were achieved, as well as when the rout of the army at Bull Run occurred. Indeed, the presence of the members at Washington added to the pressure which precipitated the movement that resulted so disastrously. Some of the members went out to see the fight. One of these was taken prisoner, and others took such a lesson in retreating as to cure them of all curiosity concerning battles and battle-fields forever.

On the meeting of Congress, the President communicated a message which was received with profound interest, both by Congress and the whole country. The opening portions of the document were strictly historical of the events of the rebellion to the date of its utterance; and as the most of these events have already found record in these pages, their reproduction is not necessary.

By opening fire upon Sumter, when it had not “a gun in sight, or in expectancy, to return their fire, save only the few

up

the

a

in the fort sent to that harbor years before for their own protection,” he declared that the rebels had forced

upon country the distinct issue-immediate dissolution or blood. And this issue,” the message proceeds, “ embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question whether a constitutional republic or democracy—a government of the people by the same peoplecan or cannot maintain its territorial integrity, against its own domestic foes. It presents the question whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control administration according to organic law in any case, can always, upon the pretences made in this case, or on any other pretences, or arbitrarily, without any pretence, break

, up

their

government, and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth. It forces us to ask, “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 existence?'

The attempt of some of the border states to maintain a sort of armed neutrality—as illustrated in the case of Kentuckythe arming of those states to keep the forces on either side from passing over their territory—he declared would be disunion completed, if for a moment entertained. It would be building “an impassable wall along the line of separation, and yet, not quite an impassable one, for, under the guise of neutrality, it would tie the hands of Union men, and freely pass supplies from among them to the insurrectionists, which it could not do as an open enemy. At a stroke it would take all the trouble off the hands of secession, except only what proceeds from the external blockade."

Soon after the first call for militia, liberty was given to the commanding general to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in certain cases, or “to arrest and detain without resort to the ordinary processes of law such individuals as he might deem dangerous to the public safety.” Although this liberty was indulged very sparingly, there were not wanting men unfrienilly to the administration who made it the

subject of factious complaint. This fact Mr. Lincoln noticed, and this was his defense:

“The whole of the laws which were required to be faithfully executed were being resisted, and failing of execution, in nearly one-third of the states. Must they be allowed to finally fail of execution, even had it been perfectly clear that by the use of the means necessary to their execution some single law, made in such extreme tenderness of the citizen's liberty, that, practically, it relieves more of the guilty than the innocent, should, to a very limited extent, be violated? To state the question more directly: are all the laws but one to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated ? Even in such a case, would not the official oath be broken, if the government should be overthrown when it was believed that disregarding the single law would tend to preserve it? But it was not believed that this ques tion was presented. It was not believed that any law was violated. The provision of the Constitution that the privilege of the writ of halieas corpus shall not be suspended, unless, when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it,' is equivalent to a provision-is a provision--that such privilege may be suspended when, in case of rebellion or invasion, the public safety does require it. It was decided that we have a case of rebellion, and that the public safety does require the qualified suspension of the privilege of the writ, which was authorized to be made. Now it is insisted that Congress, and not the Executive, is invested with this power. But the Constitution itself is silent as to which or who is to exercise this power; and as the provision was plainly made for a dangerous emergency, it cannot be believed the framers of the instrument intended that, in every case, the danger should run its course until Congress could be called together, the very assembliny of which might be prevented, as was intended in this case by the rebellion."

a

After recommending that Congress make the contest a short and decisive one, by placing at the control of the government four hundred thousand men and four hundred million dollars, and stating that a right result at that time would be worth more to the world than ten times the men and ten times the money, Mr. Lincoln took up the doctrine of state rights, state sovereignty, the right of secession, &c., and argued against it at length, doubtless as a reply to the message of Mr. Divis, and to place before the world, whose governments and peoples were sitting in judgment on the case, the grounds of the national struggle with the rebellion. The passage is too important to be abbreviated:

“It might seem, at first thought, to be of little difference whether the present movement at the South be called “secession,” or “rebellion.” The movers, however, will understand the difference.

At the beginning, they knew they could never raise their treason to any respectable magnitude by any name which implies violation of law. They knew their people possessed as much of moral sense, as much of devotion to law and order, and as much pride in, and reverence for the history and government of their common country, 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 invented 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 is, 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 is to be exercised only for just cause, themselves to be the sole judges of its justice, is too thin to merit any notice.

“With rebellion thus sugar-coated they have been drugging the public mind of their section for more than thirty years, and until at length they have brought many good men to a willingness to take up arms against the government the day after some assemblage of men have enacted the farcical pretence of taking their state out of the Union, who could have been brought to no such thing the day before.

“ This sophism derives much, perhaps the whole, of its currency from the assumption that there is some omnipotent and sacred supremacy pertaining to a state—to each state of our Federal Union. Our 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 the new ones each 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. Therein the “

United Colonies” were declared to be “free and independent states;” but, even then, the object plainly was not to declare 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 afterwards,

a

66

« PreviousContinue »