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poses. One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended; and this is the only substantial dispute; and the fugitive slave clause of the Constitution, and the law for the suppression of the foreign slave-trade, are each as well enforced, perhaps, as any law can ever be in a community where the moral sense of the people imperfectly supports the law itself. The great body of the people abide by the dry legal obligation in both cases, and a few break over in each. This, I think, can not be perfectly cured, and it would be worse in both cases after the separation of the sections than before. The foreign slave-trade, now imperfectly suppressed, would be ultimately revived, without restriction, in one section; while fugitive slaves, now only partially surrendered, would not be surrendered at all by the other.
Physically speaking, we can not separate; we can not remove our respective sections from each other, nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced, and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other, but the different parts of our country can not do this. They can not but remain face to face; and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible, then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens than laws can among friends? Suppose you go to war, you can not fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides, and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical questions as to terms of intercourse are again upon you.
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. I can not be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the National Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amendment, I fully recognize the full authority of the people over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself, and I should, under existing circumstances, favor, rather than oppose, a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act upon it.
I will venture to add, that to me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions originated by others not especially chosen
for the purpose, and which might not be precisely such as they would wish either to accept or refuse. I understand that a proposed amendment to the Constitution (which amendment, however, I have not seen) has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments, so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.
The Chief Magistrate derives all his authority from the people, and they have conferred none upon him to fix the terms for the separation of the States. The people themselves, also, can do this if they choose, but the Executive, as such, has nothing to do with it. His duty is to administer the present government as it came to his hands, and to transmit it unimpaired by him to his successor. Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of nations, with his eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal, the American people. By the frame of the Government under which we live, this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief, and have with equal wisdom provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals. While the people retain their virtue and vigilance, no administration, by any extreme wickedness or folly, can very seriously injure the Government in the short space of four years.
My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time.
If there be an object to hurry any of you, in hot haste, to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it.
Such of you as are now dissatisfied still have the old Constitution unimpaired, and on the sensitive point, the laws of your own framing under it; while the new administration will have no immediate power, if it would, to change either.
If it were admitted that you who are dissatisfied hold the right side in the dispute, there is still no single reason for pre
cipitate action. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulties.
In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you.
You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the Government; while I shall have the most solemn one to 'preserve, protect, and defend" it.
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.
The mystic cords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Both to the large assemblage that listened to the distinct recital of this address, in tones which made every word audible to the throng, and to loyal men everywhere, as it was brought to them a few minutes or hours later, by the aid of telegraph and printing press, it was a welcome message. The people saw in it an assurance that imbecility, double-dealing, or treachery, no longer had sway in the nation; that the new President was determined to carry out the behests of the people in maintaining the National integrity; and that, while thus faithfully observing his official oath, he would use every lawful and rational means to avert the convulsions of domestic war. He distinctly suggested the holding of a National Constitutional Convention, which would have power to adjust all the questions properly at issue, even including peaceable separation in a lawful manner, by a change of the organic law. He demonstrated unanswerably the utter causelessness of war, and distinctly assured the conspirators that if hostilities were commenced, it must be by them, and not by the Government. He laid down a line of policy which, had it been met in a corresponding spirit on the other side, would inevitably have averted disastrous years of bloodshed and all their consequences. While thus announcing his views, and
reaffirming sentiments formerly uttered by himself, as well as those of the political convention which nominated him for the Presidency, he also plainly indicated that the benefits secured by the Constitution to any portion of the people could not be claimed by them while trampling that instrument under foot. He told them plainly that the course he thus marked out was not one to be pursued toward rebels who should plunge the nation in war. He gave them seasonable notice that no immunities could be claimed under the assurances given on this or any other occasion, inconsistent with the changed condition of affairs, should they madly appeal to arms.
The whole address breathes an earnest yearning for an honorable peace. It does not, however, like the unfortunate message of his predecessor, of the previous December, base the desire for peace on a confessed helplessness of the Government or an indisposition to exert its power of self-preservation. A new political era had begun, and true patriots breathed more freely.
One of the first duties of the President was to purge the Government of disloyal or doubtful men in responsible places. Long-continued Democratic precedent justified a general change of civil officers, from highest to lowest, on the ground of political differences alone. But after the treasonable developments of the previous months and years, a thorough sifting of all the Departments became indispensable, from high considerations of duty, on the basis of loyalty and disloyalty, rather than of mere partisanship. No practical measures could be adopted before this change was at least partially accomplished. The magnitude of such a work, to which the President gave the most earnest and unwearying attention for weeks, need not be indicated. The patience with which the "claims" of different candidates for place were weighed, and the kindness (tempered often with a wholesome firmness) which characterized his deportment toward all, usually retained the confidence and esteem of those whom he felt compelled to disappoint.
It was during the days between his arrival in Washington and his inauguration, that the construction of his Cabinet, perhaps substantially settled in his own mind before he left Illi