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One Union-One Constitution — One Destiny. Speech on the Rebellion
delivered in the House of Representatives, April 24, 1862.
Mr. Chairman : I feel deeply indebted to the gentleman from Vermont (Mr. Morrill) for his generous courtesy in submitting the motion to go into Committee of the Whole at this time, in order to enable me to speak upon the subject of our present national troubles. I propose to make an oldfashioned, patriotic speech, and, whilst not intended as an answer, it will follow appropriately, I trust, the very remarkable and vindictive speech to which we have been compelled to-day to listen from the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Lovejoy). In the brief hour allowed to me by the rules of the House I shall not attempt, to any extent, the discussion of those great constitutional questions which have grown out of the present rebellion. I shall content myşelf by stating frankly the impressions made upon my own mind, and the opinions formed by the changed circumstances which surround us, and with such appropriate allusion to the causes of our great troubles, and the remedy for them, as the occasion seems to suggest.
Perhaps in all history no more melancholy spectacle was ever presented to the gaze of men than that which we have looked upon in this country during the last twelve months. A great nation hitherto blessed beyond any other people of ancient or modern times, with a Constitution and form of government at once the wonder and admiration of mankind, without a public debt and almost free from taxation, enjoying a degree of civil and religious liberty never attained by any other nation, having the benefits of moral and intellectual culture diffused among all the masses of the people, great in all the elements of national power, in the supposed intelligence, virtue, and patriotism of the people, in commerce, in manufactures, in agriculture, in art, literature, and science, and bidding fair to rival the proudest nation of all the earth, our armies invincible at home, our navies riding upon every sea —such, Mr. Chairman, is a fair presentation of the condition of our country one short year ago. But how changed the scene! In the place of peace, prosperity, and happiness we find ourselves engaged in civil strife; the hostile tread of armed men is heard on every side; the nation is convulsed from center to circumference with great and warlike preparations; the clash of arms is heard throughout the land, and blood is made to flow on a hundred battle-fields, and our national existence is threatened with overthrow. It is a fearful question: Who and what have caused this sudden and unexpected change? Where were our wise men and prudent legislators, that whatever causes of discontent existed might not have been removed ? Upon the administration of James Buchanan and the Thirty-sixth Congress rests the fearful responsibility of permitting the present fearful state of things to exist; and in all time to come the closing days of his administration, and the action of that Congress will be regarded as the darkest period in American history.
Mr. Chairman, I belong to that class of men who believe that it is far better to settle all questions of national difficulty by an appeal to reason and to the ballot-box rather than by the arbitrament of arms; and I am sincere in the reflection that, considering the boasted civilization of the American people, the present civil war must be regarded in all time to come as a scandal and disgrace to the age in which we live; and the authors of it, when the passions of the present hour shall have subsided, in the judgment of posterity will be considered as the evil spirits of this generation, and the worst foes to free institutions and the cause of well regulated liberty among
This rebellion is one of the legitimate fruits of the excesses to which party spirit has been carried in this country, and of the continued and fierce agitation of the question of African slavery; the loss of political power furnishing a motive to ambitious men to put it on foot, and the slavery question being the moving power by which they hoped to excite and enlist the sympathies and the services of the great body of the Southern people. The national Government having fallen into the hands of a weak and vacillating President, his Cabinet composed in part of the conspirators themselves, bold, reckless, and unscrupulous, using their ill-gotten power to encourage the purposes of disloyalty and precipitate national disaster, whilst the people were shocked and amazed and yet incredulous as to the wicked objects which these men had in view,- the rebellion at the outset met with a degree of success and encouragement, causing thousands of good men to doubt the ability of the Government to check its progress and to overthrow those who had taken up arms against it. Never did a free people enter more reluctantly into an unwilling contest than did the loyal people of the United States with the disunionists of the South, who “forced this war upon the country.” It was not until State after State had broken its plighted faith and violated all the obligations of the Federal Constitution in passing ordinances of secession, not until the Federal Treasury had been robbed, our arsenals and armories despoiled of their arms, our ships sent to distant seas, armies raised to resist the authority of the general Government, peaceful .vessels fired into, and a weak and beleaguered garrison compelled to surrender that the national Government took the first step to exert its authority and to maintain the supremacy of the laws and the Federal Constitu
tion. Never in the history of the world was so much forbearance displayed by a great government towards those in rebellion against it, and who were plotting its overthrow,
The purpose from the beginning was to break up the Government. For more than a quarter of a century a great party, founded upon the most pernicious theories, and denying the most obvious and direct teachings of the Federal Constitution, as found in the letter as well as in the spirit of that instrument and its contemporaneous exposition by the authorized departments of the Government, as well as by the great minds of the nation most competent to expound it, have been seeking pretexts to divide and dismember the Confederacy. Checked in their purposes of disloyalty by that man of iron will, Andrew Jackson, in 1832, and relieved from the dangerous predicament in which they found themselves placed at that time by the generous and liberal statesmanship of Henry Clay, they have lost no opportunity since to sow the seed of discord and encourage and foment a spirit of disloyalty and opposition to the authority of the Federal Government. Starting out originally in their crusade upon the tariff question, they readily relinquished it for one of a more excitable character, and in regard to which the “Southern heart could be more easily fired.” Receiving all the aid which they desired from another class of men, little less dangerous and no better than themselves, and equally intent upon mischief,—men who act upon the motto of “no union with slaveholders," and who have inscribed upon their banner that the Constitution of the United States is " covenant with death and an agreement with hell”; who have done all in their power to obstruct and to prevent the execution of the Federal laws in the Northern States; who have inspired a spirit of hatred among their own people against the South and Southern institutions; who prefer to see the Union broken if slavery be not abolished,- it is not to be wondered at that the leaders of this rebellion, representing the opinions of these “fanatical men” as the voice of the Northern people, and urging upon them the false idea that it was the purpose to interfere with and destroy one of their institutions in the Southern States without regard to the guarantees thrown around it in the Federal Constitution, have thus far succeeded in enlisting beneath their banner so many well-meaning but deluded followers. Instead of seeking redress by the mode pointed out in the Constitution itself for any grievances of which they had a right to complain, by asking an amendment of that instrument, they seized upon the election of Abraham Lincoln as President, although fair and according to all the forms of law, by a majority of the freemen of the nation, to carry into effect their absurd and unpatriotic purposes. Even before he was inaugurated, before any step had been taken by him calculated to produce alarm or to indicate that he intended in any way to interfere with the legal and constitutional rights of Southern men,
and in the face of the resolution constituting a part of the platform of the party that elected him, this rebellion is set on foot, and before the 4th day of March, 1861, seven out of fifteen Southern States have passed ordinances of secession, and erected another government within the boundaries of the Republic.
Mr. Chairman, I denounce this as a most causeless and reckless rebellion. I have regarded it as such from the beginning, and as involving a greater degree of error and evil than any other attempted revolution in the world's history. I do not pretend to deny that there were causes of irritation and discontent; that a large portion of the Northern people had acted in bad faith in not accepting and carrying out in good faith the true spirit and purposes of the Federal Constitution in regard to the rendition of fugitive slaves. But these things furnished no justification to these ambitious men for starting a rebellion like this. And especially was it a most wicked and unjustifiable step on the part of South Carolina and the other extreme Southern States by which she was encouraged, all of whose citizens had not suffered as much in any disturbance of their rights of property as the citizens of one single county of the district that I have the honor to represent on this floor.
Mr. Chairman, I have said that these grievances ought to have been settled; our bleeding country feels the truth of this remark to-day. In a spirit of fraternity and union, and under the same noble and elevated sentiments of patriotism that guided and controlled the fathers of the Republic in the formation of the Federal Constitution, they would have been settled. Surely, sir, there is not a man holding a seat here, or in the nation, and who is governed by the noble instincts of patriotism and humanity, who would not to-day have preferred the adoption of the compromise offered by my venerable friend who sits before me (Mr. Crittenden), or that offered by the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kellogg), or, indeed, either of the compromises offered in the Thirty-sixth Congress, to the present lamentable state of things by which we find ourselves surrounded. I hear men frequently denounce all compromise ; but, sir, what is government itself but a compromise of conflicting opinions ? How would our own matchless form of government ever have been instituted except by conciliation and compromise? How would the little State of Rhode Island, so ably and so honorably represented here, exert the same influence at the other end of the.capitol in the legislation of the country as the great State of New York, except for the spirit of compromise and concession which controlled and guided the framers of the Federal Constitution ? If such men as George Washington and John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, could meet in council together in devising and framing a system of government for themselves and their posterity, in comparing and yielding their preconceived in
dividual sentiments in order to form a Constitution adapted to the wants and necessities and varied and discordant interests and dissimilar institutions of the then thirteen colonies, there is no reason why the men of this generation, who have profited so much by the labors and sacrifices of these great and good men, should not follow their example, and, in a spirit of peace and conciliation, make to each other such concessions as are demanded by the growth, the practical necessities, and the more enlarged and varied interests of the entire country. In all this there would have been no sacrifice either of truth or principle. And but for this yielding of preconceived notions we might not, and should not, have been blessed with the noble form of government under which we live, and which has been and can be preserved in all future time only by listening to the admonitions and following the wise example of those who framed it. We have heard much about clinging to an idea. The gentleman from Maine [Mr. Fessenden) tells us that he honors the men of “an idea to which they cling with the tenacity of death!” Sir, the men of the American Revolution were preeminently men of ideas; but they thought that it was not best to cling with such tenacity to a “single idea" as to endanger the great purpose which they had in view - the founding on this continent of a Government dedicated to the principles of civil and religious liberty.
If the doctrine of which we now hear so much,“no Union with slaveholders,” no Union without emancipation, had been proclaimed and adhered to in the convention that framed the Constitution, we all know that the government under which we live would never have been established. An attempt on the part of the general Government to enforce the same thing now will be equally fatal to the cause of the Union. It is the province of wisdom to deal with things as we find them. There is no practical statesmanship in clinging to "an idea," and thereby endangering the very existence of the Government. Men who cling with such tenacity to idea” may mean well, but they cannot be safe counsellors in times like these, when all that we hold dear is so deeply imperiled. Such men are well described in the following extract which I recently met with in an interesting book, and which I cordially commend to the gentleman from Maine, and also to the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Lovejoy), and to those who act with them :
Among the objects of interest very often, if not always, to be found at the foot of dams and cataracts, are what are called “pot-holes.” They are round holes worn in the solid rock by a single stone kept in motion by the water. Some of them are very large and others are small. When the stream becomes dry there they are, smooth as if turned out by machinery, and the hard round pebbles at the bottom by which the curious work was done. Every year, as the dry season comes along, we find that the holes have grown larger and the pebbles smaller,