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BENJAMIN FRANKLIN WADE was born near Springfield, Massachusetta,
in 1800. Such education as he received seems to have been mainly obtained at home. There is no record of his graduation from any university. He became a lawyer and began to practice at the Ohio bar in 1827. Ten years later, he entered the State Senate as a Whig, and was elected to the same body in 1841. In 1847 he was made a judge of the Third Judicial District in Ohio, and, while occupying this position, was sent in 1851 to the United States Sen. ate, and remained there until 1869. The speech which we subjoin is said to have made Judge Wade the leader of the Radical Republicans. It certainly affords an index of the sentiment of the great mass of the Republicans with regard to the threatened secession of many slaveholding States. He died 1878
ON SECESSION, AND THE STATE OF THE UNION;
SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, DECEMBER 17, 1860 Mr. President :
T a time like this, when there seems to be a wild and
unreasoning excitement in many parts of the coun.
try, I certainly have very little faith in the efficacy of any argument that may be made; but at the same time, I must say, when I hear it stated by many Senators in this Chamber, where we all raised our hands to Heaven, and took a solemn oath to support the Constitution of the United States, that we are on the eve of a dissolution of this Union, and that the Constitution is to be trampled underfoot-silence under such circumstances seems to me akin to treason itself.
I have listened to the complaints on the other side patiently, and with an ardent desire to ascertain what was the particular difficulty under which they were laboring. Many of those who have supposed themselves aggrieved have spoken; but I confess that I am now totally unable to undertand precisely what it is of which they complain. Why, sir, the party which lately elected their President, and are prospectively to come into power, have never held an executive office under the general government, nor has any individual of them. It is most manifest, therefore, that the party to which I belong have as yet committed no act of which anybody can complain. If they have fears as to the course that we may hereafter pursue, they are mere apprehensions—a bare suspicion; arising, I fear, out of their unwarrantable prejudices, and nothing else.
I wish to ascertain at the outset whether we are right; for I tell gentlemen that, if they can convince me that I am holding any political principle that is not warranted by the Constitution under which we live, or that trenches upon their rights, they need not ask me to compromise it. I will be ever ready to grant redress, and to right myself whenever I am wrong. No man need approach me with a threat that the government under which I live is to be destroyed; because I hope I have now, and ever shall have, such a sense of justice that, when any man shows me that I am wrong, I shall be ready to right it without price or compromise.
Now, sir, what is it of which gentlemen complain? When I left my home in the West to come to this place, all was calm, cheerful, and contented. I heard of no discontent. I apprehended that there was nothing to interrupt the harmonious course of our legislation. I did not learn that, since we adjourned from this place at the end of the last session, there had been any new fact intervening that should at all disturb the public mind. I do not know that there has been any encroachment upon the rights of any section of the country since that time; I came here, therefore, expecting to have a very harmonious session. It is very true, sir, that the great Republican party which has been organized ever since you repealed the Missouri Com. promise, and who gave you, four years ago, full warning that their growing strength would probably result as it has resulted, have carried the late election; but I did not suppose that would disturb the equanimity of this body. I did suppose that every man who was observant of the signs of the times might well see that things would result as they have resulted. Nor do I understand now that anything growing out of that election is the cause of the present excitement that pervades the country.
Why, Mr. President, this is a most singular state of things. Who is it that is complaining? They that have been in a minority? They that have been the subjects of an oppressive and aggressive government? No, sir. Let us suppose that when the leaders of the old glorious Revolution met at Philadelphia eighty-four years ago to draw up a bill of indictment against a wicked king and his ministers, they had been at a loss what they should set forth as the causes of their complaint. They had no difficulty in setting them forth so that the great article of impeachment will go down to all posterity as a full justification of all the acts they did. But let us suppose that, instead of its being these old patriots who had met there to dissolve their con. nection with the British Government, and to trample their flag underfoot, it had been the ministers of the crown, the leading members of the British Parliament, of the dominant party that had ruled Great Britain for thirty years previous: who would not have branded every man of them as a traitor? It would be said: “You who have had the gov. ernment in your own hands: you who have been the ministers of the crown, advising everything that has been done, set up here that you have been oppressed and aggrieved by the action of that very government which you have directed yourselves.” Instead of a sublime revolution, the uprising of an oppressed people, ready to battle against unequal power for their rights, it would have been an act of treason.
How is it with the leaders of this modern revolution ? Are they in a position to complain of the action of this government for years past? Why, sir, they have had more than two-thirds of the Senate for many years past, and until very recently, and have almost that now. You—who com. plain, I ought to say-represent but a little more than onefourth of the free people of these United States, and yet your counsels prevail, and have prevailed all along for at least ten years past. In the Cabinet, in the Senate of the United States, in the Supreme Court, in every department of the government, your officers, or those devoted to you, have been in the majority, and have dictated all the policies of this government. Is it not strange, sir, that they who now occupy these positions should come here and complain that their rights are stricken down by the action of the government ?
But what has caused this great excitement that un doubtedly prevails in a portion of our country?
If the newspapers are to be credited, there is a reign of terror in all the cities and large towns in the southern portion of this community that looks very much like the reign of terror in Paris during the French Revolution. There are acts of violence that we read of almost every day, wherein the rights of Northern men are stricken down, where they are sent back with indignities, where they are scourged, tarred, feathered, and murdered, and no inquiry made as to the cause. I do not suppose that the regular government, in times of excitement like these, is really responsible for such acts. I know that these outbreaks of passion, these terrible excitements that sometimes pervade the community are entirely irrepressible by the law of the country. I suppose that is the case now; because if these outrages against Northern citizens were really authorized by the State authorities there, were they a foreign government, everybody knows, if it were the strongest government on earth, we should declare war upon her in one day.
But what has caused this great excitement ? Sir, I will tell you what I suppose it is. I do not (and I say it frankly) so much blame the people of the South; because they believe, and they are led to believe by all the infor. mation that ever comes before them, that we, the dominant party to-day, who have just seized upon the reins of this government, are their mortal enemies, and stand ready to trample their institutions underfoot. They have been told so by our enemies at the North. Their misfortune, or their fault, is that they have lent a too easy ear to the insinuations of those who are our mortal enemies, while they would not hear us.
Now I wish to inquire, in the first place, honestly, candidly, and fairly, whether the Southern gentlemen on the other side of the Chamber that complain so much, have any reasonable grounds for that complaint-I mean when they are really informed as to our position.
Northern Democrats have sometimes said that we nad