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you, "let us depart in peace." Refuse that, and you present us war. We accept it; and inscribing upon our banners the glorious words, "liberty and equality," we will trust to the blood of the brave and the God of battles for security and tranquillity.
Congressional Globe, 36 Cong., 2 sess. (John C. Rives, Washington, 1861), 269-271 passim, January 7, 1861.
55. A Fire-Eater (1861)
BY SENATOR LOUIS TREZEVANT WIGFALL
Wigfall did not enter the United States Senate until 1860, but during his brief service he became prominent as an uncompromising advocate of the rights of slavery. The speech from which this extract is taken is characteristic of the air of indifference to the war assumed by many of the southern statesmen. Wigfall took part in the bombardment of Sumter, and demanded the surrender of the fort (see No. 72 below). -Bibliography as in No. 53 above.
HIS Federal Government is dead. The only question is, whether we will give it a decent, peaceable, Protestant burial, or whether we shall have an Irish wake at the grave. .. I think myself it would be for the benefit of both sections that we should not have an Irish wake at our funeral; but that is for the North to decide, and not for us. Believing-no, sir, not believing, but knowing — that this Union is dissolved, never, never to be reconstructed upon any terms - not if you were to hand us blank paper, and ask us to write a constitution, would we ever again be confederated with you. . . . Then, knowing that the Union is dissolved, that reconstruction is impossible, I would, myself, had I been consulted by the Union-savers, have told them that Union-saving was impracticable, but that peaceable separation was practicable. . . . I suppose commissioners, in a few days, will be here from the confederate States. Turn your backs upon these commissioners, attempt to reinforce the forts and retake those which we now have; attempt to collect the revenues, or do any other manner or matter of thing that denies to the free white men, living in those seven sovereign States, the right which they have asserted of self-government, and you will have war, and it will be war in all its stern realities. I say this not in bravado, but I say it because I know it and you know it. . .
. . . The Senator from Illinois seemed to be shocked at my speaking with a feeling of gratification at the flag of what he chooses to call my
country being insulted. It is not the flag of my country, I hope and believe; but I have not official information on that point. That flag was never insulted with impunity until it floated over a cargo of Black Republican hirelings, sent to one of the sovereign States of this Union to coerce them to obedience to a Government that was distasteful to them. .
. . . I was speaking of this parenthesis that is now incumbent in the War office. Without allowing even the President to know it, as it is said in the newspapers - I am not in the confidence of the last Cabinet, and I suspect will not be in the new one, it is said that, without allowing even the President to know it, he surreptitiously, in the dead of night, sneaked a merchant vessel out of the harbor of New York, intending to sneak it into Charleston harbor; but they had put out the lights and blocked up the channel, and she was obliged to come up in broad daylight. A shot was thrown athwart the bow of this vessel containing armed men; they displayed a flag and it was fired at. I did say that that vessel had swaggered into Charleston harbor, had received a blow in the face, and had staggered out; and that this Secretary of War, who had brought the flag of this country in a condition to be fired at, had never dared, from that time to this, to resent the injury and insult; and in consequence of that, the State to which I owe my allegiance has withdrawn and cut loose from all connection with a Government that allows its flag to be so insulted. She has plucked her bright star from a bunting that can be fired at with impunity. If your President elect has recovered from that artificial fright, see if you cannot induce him to try and wipe out the insult; but I predicted last night that he would not; and I predict again that he will not. You fear to pass your force bills; you abandon them in both Houses. If you can get a Cabinet properly organized, with fire-eaters enough in it, the Cabinet may precipitate the country into a war, and then call upon what is denominated the conservative elements of your party to sustain the country in a war in which you have already involved it; but I know, and you know, that those men whom you represent are not in favor of war, and that their representatives here, a large number of them, fear it. What will be the result, I do not know; and to be very frank, I do not care.
Now, having explained why it was that I felt rejoiced at this insult to the flag of your country, I shall take up very little more time. The country is composed of States; and when that Government which was established by those States, and that flag which bears upon its broad folds the stars representing those States, is used for the purpose of making war
upon some of those States, I say that it has already been degraded, and that it ought to be fired at, and it should be torn down and trampled upon. These are my feelings upon the subject; and "if this be treason, make the most of it." I owe my allegiance — and Senators are not mistaken about that, for I have said it frequently — to the State which I here represent. I do not owe my allegiance to this Government. The Senator from Illinois spoke of the necessity of coercing these States, or not entertaining propositions from them, and likened it to the case of a Government in which there were revolted provinces. Your President elect, a short time ago, in a speech, asked the question gravely, what is the difference between a State and a county? And he seemed to be really in quest of information. Now, I was not astonished at that, for I did not expect anything better of him. From a man who is taken up because he is an ex-rail splitter, an ex-grocery keeper, an ex-flatboat captain, and an ex-Abolition lecturer, and is run upon that question, I would not expect any great information as to the Government which he was to administer. But I was surprised to hear a Senatora Senator of education and ability, such as the Senator from Illinois is — compare the States of this Union, the States that formed this Government, the States without the consent of which this Government could not originally have had existence, and without the consent of which this Government cannot exist a day. To hear him talk about those States as revolted provinces, did surprise and shock me.
Then, briefly, a party has come into power that represents the antagonism to my own section of the country. It represents two million men who hate us, and who, by their votes for such a man as they have elected, have committed an overt act of hostility. That they have done. You have won the Presidency, and you are now in the situation of the man who had won the elephant at a raffle. You do not know what to do with the beast now that you have it; and one half of you to-day would give your right arms if you had been defeated. But you succeeded, and you have to deal with facts. Our objection to living in this Union, and therefore the difficulty of reconstructing it, is not your personal liberty bill, not the territorial question, but that you utterly and wholly misapprehend the form of government. You deny the sovereignty of the States; you deny the right of self-government in the people; you insist upon negro equality; your people interfere impertinently with our institutions and attempt to subvert them; you publish newspapers; you deliver lectures; you print pamphlets, and you send them among us, first, to excite our slaves
to insurrection against their masters, and next, to array one class of citizens against the other; and I say to you that we cannot live in peace, either in the Union or out of it, until you have abolished your Abolition societies; not, as I have been misquoted, abolish or destroy your schoolhouses; but until you have ceased in your school-houses teaching your children to hate us; until you have ceased to convert your pulpits into hustings; until you content yourselves with preaching Christ, and Him crucified, and not delivering political harangues on the Sabbath; until you have ceased inciting your own citizens to make raids and commit robberies; until you have done these things we cannot live in the same Union with you. Until you do these things, we cannot live out of the Union at peace. . .
Now, having made these few, little, conciliatory, peace-preserving remarks, I am not disposed to take up more time, and am willing that there should be a vote.
Congressional Globe, 36 Cong., 2 sess. (John C. Rives, Washington, 1861), 1399–1400 passim, March 2, 1861.
56. The Wrong of Secession (1861)
BY PROFESSOR JOEL PARKER
When the lecture from which this extract is taken was delivered, Parker was a professor in the Harvard Law School. Formerly he had been chief justice of the superior court of New Hampshire. As a constitutional lawyer he was not a strict constructionist, but his veneration for the Constitution itself was such that he was outspoken against the efforts of the South to destroy it, and later against any departures from it on the Union side. — Bibliography as in No. 53 above. — For an earlier refutation of states' rights, see Contemporaries, III, No. 159.
HE right of secession is asserted as a State right, consistent with the Constitution, and founded upon it, or upon the history preceding it, and the circumstances attending its formation and adoption; -a right to be exercised only through State action, and to be made effectual by a peaceful declaration of the fact of secession, which of itself accomplishes the separation of the State from the Union; any forcible opposition to it on the part of the United States being usurpation and oppression. . .
In determining whether such a right exists, we naturally turn in the first instance to the Constitution itself. But it is clear that this instru
ment contains no provision to that effect, in terms, nor any one which suggests such a result by any direct implication. It purports to be an organic and supreme law, limited as to its objects, and of course in its powers. . . The government organized under it is formed through. the instrumentality of the Constitution itself, as a fundamental law enacted by "We, the people of the United States;" and not one formed by the States, or one which when formed represents the States; although from the previous existence of the States, as sovereign communities, except so far as they were bound by the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution could not be adopted without the assent and sanction of the several States; - for which reason, and because the States were still to exist, the ratifications were by "the people" of each State. In no instance was it supposed that the existing State government could make the necessary ratification as a State act. . . . The powers of the government organized under it usually act directly upon the people of the whole country, as the powers of the State government act upon all the people of the State; sometimes with reference to geographical or State lines, as the powers of the State government act with regard to county, town, or city limits. . . . It is none the less true, that the States have no control over any of the departments of the general government. They do not direct their action, in the first instance, nor is there, by the Constitution, any appeal to State judgment, or State sanction, through which errors are corrected, or the action of the departments is affirmed or reversed.
The Constitution declares that itself, the laws of the United States made in pursuance of it, and treaties made under its authority, shall be the supreme law of the land, by which the judges of every State shall be bound, anything in the laws or constitution of the State to the contrary notwithstanding. It is a perversion of terms to call the "supreme law of the land" a compact between the States, which any State may rescind at pleasure. It is not itself an agreement, but is the result of an agreement. And in the absence of an express declaration, or reservation, it is an entire subversion of all legal principles to maintain that the subordinate may at pleasure set itself free from the restrictions imposed upon it by the fundamental law constituting the superior, even if the subordinate have in other particulars an uncontrolled authority. The judges of each State being expressly bound by the Constitution and laws of the United States, anything in the constitution or laws of the State to the contrary, how can a State law (or ordinance, which is but another