Where Will the Rebellion Leave Us?
“ THE United States are bounded, North, by the British Possessions; South, by the Gulf of Mexico; East, by the Atlantic Ocean; and West, by the Pacific.” So the school-books told us which we studied in our childhood; and so, in every school throughout the land, the children are taught to-day. The armed hosts whose tread resounds through the Continent are marching Southward to teach this simple lesson in geography. They all know it by heart. “This they are ready to verify,” as the lawyers say. Wherever, in any benighted region, this elementary proposition shall be henceforth denied or doubted, schools for adults are to be established, and the needful instruction given. By regiments, battalions, and brigades, with all necessary apparatus, the teachers go forth to their work. The proposition is a very simple one, easily expressed and easily understood; but it tells the whole story. It is the substance of all men’s thoughts, and of all men’s speech. Mr. Lincoln states it in his inaugural. Mr. Douglas impresses it upon the Illinois legislature. Mr. Seward announces it, briefly and with emphasis, to the governments of Europe. Sentimental talk about. “ our country, however bounded,” is obsolete; and how the country is bounded is now the point to be settled, once and forever. “This territory, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf, belongs to the people of the United States, and they mean to hold and keep it. We shall neither alter our school-books nor revise our maps.” So say the American people, rising in their wrath.
The practical question with which Mr. Lincoln’s administration had to deal in the first place was, Whether a popular government is strong enough to suppress a military rebellion ? And that may be regarded as already settled. But the grounds upon which that rebellion is justified involve the vital facts of national unity, and even of national existence. As a people, we have always been extremely tolerant of theories, however absurd. There is hardly a doctrine of constitutional law so clear and well settled, that it is not, from time to time, discussed and disputed among us. But when it comes to reducing mischievous speculations to practice, the case is altered, and the practical genius of the people begins to manifest itself. Thus, the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of’98 and ‘99 declared the Federal Constitution to be merely a compact between sovereign States, created for a special and limited purpose; and that each party to the compact was the exclusive and final judge for itself of the construction of the contract, with a right to determine for itself when it was violated, and the measure and mode of redress. As a theory, this doctrine has been very extensively accepted. Great parties have adopted it as their platform, and elections have been carried upon it. Its value as a support to the dignity and self-importance of local politicians was readily apprehended by them; and it was in perfect harmony with the tone of bluster which pervaded our politics. The thorough refutation which it always encountered, whenever it was seriously considered, never seemed to do its popularity any harm. In truth, mere vaporing hurt nobody, and caused no great alarm. But when the Hartford Convention was suspected of covering a little actual heat under the smoke of the customary resolutions and protests, a bucket of cold water was thrown over it. When, in 1832, South Carolina developed a spark of real fire, the nation put its foot on it. And now, when the torch of rebellion has been circulating among very inflammable materials, until a serious conflagration is threatened, the instinct of self-preservation has roused the energies of the whole people for its immediate, complete, and final extinction.
The present insurrection has been so long meditated, the approaches to its final consummation have been so steadily made, and the schemes of the principal traitors have been so well planned and carefully matured, that they have almost succeeded in making the vocabulary of treason a part of the vernacular of the country. We all talk of the States which have seceded or are going to secede, — of a fratricidal war,—of the measures which this or the other State is determined or likely to adopt; and a great deal has been said about State sovereignty, and coercion of a State, and the. invasion of the soil of one State ami another. There has been large discussion in times past of the danger of a dissolution of the Union, Indeed, this danger has been so often held up as a threat by one section, and so persistently used as a scarecrow by timid or profligate men in the other, that it has become one of the commonplaces of political contests. Our ears have hardly ceased to be tormented with projects of reconstruction, and with suggestions of guaranties, and pacifications, and mediation, and neutrality, armed or otherwise. Border-State Conventions are projected, and well-meaning governors have been arranging interviews or conducting correspondence with governors who talked of Southern rights, and undertook to say what their States would or would not permit the United States Government to do. Even a Cabinet officer, of whom better things might have been expected, and by whom better things are now nobly said and done, allowed himself to fall into the error of explaining to the vacillating Governor of Maryland that the intentions of the National Administration were purely defensive. While such language is current at home, it is not strange that foreigners should find themselves in a state of hopeless confusion about us. Few European writers, except De Tocqueville, have ever shown a clear comprehension of our political system ; and the speeches of British statesmen on American affairs are perhaps rather to be accounted for and excused from want of information, than resented as hostile or insulting. But it is time that this whole pernicious dialect should be exploded, and the ideas which it represents be eradicated from the minds of intelligent men everywhere.
The right of revolution it is needless to discuss. Resistance, in any practicable method, to intolerable oppression, is the natural right of every human being, and of course of every community. But such a right is never included in the framework of organized civil society. From its nature, it can form no part of a plan of government. The only formula which embraces it is the famous one of “ Monarchy tempered by Regicide ” ; and where that prevails, it seems to be adopted as a practical expedient, rather than recognized as an established constitutional maxim. But as a question of revolution the issue is not presented. If it were, it would be easy to deal with. The only embarrassment in our present condition, so far as reasoning goes, arises from confused notions of constitutional law, and the inaccuracy of language which necessarily attends them. In order, therefore, to know what is before us, let us first see where we stand.
The London “ Times ” informs the people of England, that “the resolution of the North to crush Secession by force involves a denial of the right of each oneof the seceding States to determine the conditions of its own national existence.” Precisely so. It involves all that; but the whole fact comprehends a great deal more. Not one of the States of the American Union has any national existence, or ever had any, in the sense in which the “Times” uses the phrase. Not one of them has any of the functions or qualities of a nation. In the case of the greater part of the States in which the rebellion exists, the United States bought and paid for the territory which they occupy, made States of them under its own Constitution and laws, upon certain conditions made irrevocable by the act which created them, and reserved the forts, arsenals, and custom-houses which their treasonable citizens have since undertaken to steal. The fundamental idea of the American system is local self-government for local purposes, and national unity for national purposes. Our national union is synonymous with our national existence. When we speak of sovereign and independent States, the phrase has no other just meaning than that each State is independent of every other in all matters exclusively appertaining to its own powers and duties, and sovereign upon all subjects which have not been committed exclusively to the jurisdiction of the Federal Government. Any encroachment by the Government of the United States upon the lawful jurisdiction of the several States would be resisted as a usurpation; but the “reserved rights” of the States, ex vi termini cannot include any of the attributes of power which the people of the whole country have conferred upon the Union. But further, — and this is a point of great practical importance,— the Federal Government has no relation to the several States as States, and they have no relations to it, or to each other, except so far as these relations are expressly defined and specified in the National Constitution. Beyond those, the authority and jurisdiction of the nation address themselves and are applied to the individual citizens of all the States alike. “ The king can do no wrong,” is the maxim of English law. A State of the American Union cannot secede, or commit treason, or make war upon the United States, So the United States cannot, and do not. make war upon any State. Virginia, for all national purposes, belongs to the United States,— exactly as it belongs to the State, for the purposes of local administration. In theory, and in practice, the State of Virginia is at this moment a peaceful and faithful member of the American Union. Her Senators and Representatives, except so far as individuals among them may have disqualified themselves by resignation, or, what may be held to be equivalent, by deserting their posts to array themselves in active hostility to their country, are still entitled to their seats in Congress. The State may be overrun by armed insurgents, resisting the Federal authority ; but so it might be by a foreign army. The peaceful citizens, who remain faithful to their constitutional obligations, are entitled to the aid of the national power to suppress domestic insurrection, whatever proportions that insurrection may assume. The soldiers of the United States, lawfully mustered to resist invasion or put down rebellion, have nothing to do with State lines, and act In perfect harmony with all legitimate State action. They can no more invade a State than if they were in it to resist a foreign enemy, or than a United States marshal invades it when he goes to arrest a counterfeiter. The “Times” would have little difficulty in understanding a denial of the right of the Isle of Man, or of Lancashire, or of Ireland, “to determine the conditions of its own national existence.”
There is another fallacy in speaking of the resolution of the North to crush Secession by force. It is the resolution of the nation,— of all that is faithful and loyal in it, wherever found. The people of the Southern States have not had any fair opportunity to express their opinions. The military usurpers have allowed nothing to be submitted to the test of a popular vote, except where they were able to take such measures of precaution, in the way of hanging, confiscation, banishment, disarming opponents, and the presence of an armed force which should overawe dissenters, as might secure the unanimity they desired. There is undoubtedly much more loyalty in the Northern than in the Southern States of the Union, as there is less of passion, and more of intelligence and principle,— although treason has, till very lately, found more than enough apologists or abettors even in the Free States. But the spirit which now actuates our people has little that is sectional in it, and the principles at issue have the same application to Maine that they have to Florida.
When we ask, then, where this rebellion will leave us, and what will be the condition of the United States when the authority of the Government has been vindicated and reestablished, the answer must be sought in the considerations already suggested. The rebellion cannot be ended, until we have settled as a principle of constitutional law for our own citizens, and as a fact of which all other nations must take notice, that this whole country belongs to the people of the United States. No foreign power shall possess a foot of it. If the majority of the people of a State can throw off their allegiance to the Union, they can transfer their allegiance to England or Spain at their pleasure, as well as to a new confederacy of their own devising. The battles of the Revolution which secured our independence were fought by the whole country, and for the whole country, without reference to local majorities. The accessions to our territory were made by the nation as a unit, and belong to it as such. We did not acquire Texas, and pay the millions of its debt, with the reservation that it might sell itself again the next day to the highest bidder. That no foreign dominion shall interpose between the Northwest and the Atlantic, or between the Valley of the Mississippi and the Gulf, is a geographical necessity. But that the American Union is indissoluble is essential to our national existence. If that be not so, we have neither a flag nor a country,— we can neither contract a debt nor make a treaty, — we have neither honor abroad nor strength at home, — our experiment of free government is a blunder and a failure,—and for us, “Chaos has come again.”
But the further question remains, In what way is it possible that harmony shall be restored between the parts of the country through which the rebellion has spread and those which have remained faithful to the Constitution and the Union ? When we have dispersed the armies of the rebels, and demolished their batteries, and retaken our forts and arsenals, our navy-yards and armories, our mints and custom-houses,—when we have visited their leaders with retributive justice, and made Richmond and Charleston and New Orleans as submissive to lawful authority as Baltimore or Washington or Boston, — what then? Will a people we have subjugated ever live with us again on terms of equality and friendship ? Can the wounded pride of the Ancient Dominion be so far soothed that she can allow us again to bask in the sunshine of her favor? Will she ever consent to resume her old superiority, and furnish our audacious army and navy with officers, our committees with chairmen, and our departments with clerks ? Or must we, for a generation, hold the States we have subdued by military occupation ? Must we make Territories of them, and blot out those malignant stars from our glorious and triumphant banner?
In all seriousness, there seems but one solution to the problem; and it must be found, if at all, In the proposition already stated, that treason is an individual act. A State cannot rebel, as it cannot secede. A governor of a State may rebel, and a majority of a legislature may join an insurrection, as a governor or legislators may commit larceny or join a piratical expedition. But whoever arrays himself in armed opposition to the Government of the United States, or gives aid and comfort to its enemies, becomes thereby merely a private rebel and traitor. Whatever office he may fill, with whatever functions of local government he may be intrusted, by whatever name he may be called, governor or judge, senator or representative, it is the treason of the citizen, and not of the officer. And as a State has no legal existence except as a member of the Union, and has no constitutional powers or functions or capacities but those which it exercises in harmony with and subordination to the rightful authority of the Federal Government, so the loyal and faithful inhabitants of a State, and they only, constitute the State. Mr. Mason tells the people of Virginia, that those of them who, in their consciences, cannot vote to separate Virginia from the United States, if they retain such opinions, must leave the State. We thank him for teaching us that word. When the tables are turned, it will form a valuable theme for his private meditation. The unconditional Union men, who are of and for their country against all comers, who neither commit treason openly nor disguise their cowardly treachery under the shallow cover of neutrality, are to wield the power off their respective States, and to be the only recognized inhabitants. All others must submit or fly. If the Governor and Legislature of Virginia have renounced their allegiance to the United States, and undertaken to establish a foreign jurisdiction in a portion of our territory, their relation to that State becomes substantially the same as if they had gone on board a British fleet in the Chesapeake, or enlisted under the standard of an invading army. They have abdicated their offices, which thereby become vacant. It was for “having endeavored to subvert the constitution of the kingdom by breaking the original contract between king and people, violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawn himself out of the kingdom,” that James II. was declared by the House of Commons to have abdicated the government. Would it have been loss an abdication, if he had remained within the realm, and attempted to hold it as the viceroy of France ? When, in June, 1775, Governor Dunmore and his Council took refuge on board a British manof-war, the Virginians of that day proceeded to meet in convention, and provide new officers to manage the affairs of their State. Let this historical precedent be followed now. Wherever, in either of the States which the rebels have sought to appropriate, the loyal citizens can find a spot in which they can meet in safety, let them meet by their delegates in convention, and adopt the necessary measures to elect new officers under their present constitutions. The only irregularity will be what results from the fact that treason in such high places and on so large a scale was not contemplated, nor was a remedy furnished for it, in their frame of government. It is merely a case not provided for, and the omission must be supplied in the most practicable way. The new organization should and undoubtedly would be recognized by the National Government, and by the other Slates, as, de facto and de Jure, the State. It was settled in the Rhode Island case, under Tyler’s administration, that, where different portions of the people claim to hold and exercise the powers of a State government, it presents a political question which the National Executive and Congress must decide; and that judicial recognition must follow and conform to the political decision.
When, by such a course, the proper relations and functions of each State should be resumed, there would no longer be any matter of State pride to interfere with the absolute assertion of national authority. The new State governments would be protected against armed assailants at home and invasion from abroad ; they would apply for and obtain assistance to suppress domestic insurrection ; every misguided insurgent would have opportunity to return to his duty under the protection of his own local authorities; appropriations for the army and navy could be passed with the aid of Tennessee and Alabama votes in Congress; and Davis, and Tyler, and Mason be hung upon the verdict of a jury of the vicinage.
In Virginia, a movement based upon this principle has been already inaugurated. From Western Virginia, the progress toward Eastern Tennessee and Northern Alabama is natural and certain. The worst case to deal with, unquestionably, is South Carolina. Hers is a peculiar people, and zealous, though scarcely of good works. That fiery little Commonwealth is remarkably constituted. The State is inhabited principally by negroes; and the remaining minority may be divided into two classes,— whites who are dependent upon negroes for a subsistence, and whites whose chief distinction in life and great consolation is that they are not negroes. The former and much the smaller class possess all the wealth, all the cultivation, and all the political power, which they are enabled to retain by an ingenious and systematic use of the prejudices and passions of the latter. They are reputed to have much earnestness of conviction, and claim an unusual amount of gallantry and courage for their soldiers ; though it is noticeable that their principal exploits in our time have been the seizure of friendless colored sailors, and selling them into slavery,—the achievement of that knight of the bludgeon, the representative whose noble deed his constituents could hardly admire enough, but the better part of whose valor was the discretion that preferred to encounter his antagonist sitting and incapable of resistance, — and lastly, that heroic and bloodless victory at Fort Sumter, where imperishable glory was won by the ten thousand who conquered the seventy. They seem now to be united, and substantially unanimous. What elements a little adversity would develop in them, time must determine. Whether there is any reserve of patriotism and fidelity, overawed and silenced now, but which will come forth to serve as the nucleus of reconstruction when it can find protection and security, or whether we must wait for a new generation to grow up, remains to be tried. Their leaders are subtle reasoners, and it has been shrewdly observed of them that “ they never shrink from following their logic to its consequences because the conclusion is immoral.” Perhaps they will find no more difficulty in accepting the arguments we shall address to them because the conclusion is a little humiliating. In their case, we shall have little need to concern ourselves about the wishes of a local majority. The fact that a majority are blacks, to begin with, must deprive that consideration of all its force, even to their own apprehension. It will not be the first time that they have received a benefit which did not agree with the wishes of the greater part of those upon whom it was bestowed. The men of Rhode Island and Massachusetts who achieved the independence of South Carolina did not stop to consider whether a majority of her white inhabitants were Tories.
When we hear that the colonel of a regiment of Secessionists sends a flag of truce to Fort Monroe to ask for the return of his fugitive slaves under the Constitution and laws of the United States, a painful doubt must be suggested whether such gentlemen really believe themselves to be so wholly and utterly out of the Union as the theory of Secession would indicate. And when the novel, but very sensible doctrine with which that singular demand was met, that slaves are to be regarded as articles contraband of war, chattels capable of a military use, a kind of locomotive gun-carriages and intrenching-tools, and as such to be taken and confiscated when found belonging to armed rebels, shall have been practically applied for a time, with its natural and obvious result, it may be that even the Palmetto State will exhibit some general symptoms of returning reason.