-- Dilemmas of Compromise --


Albany Evening Journal, December 17, 1860
Monday Evening

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"No More Compromises" -- "No Backing Down"

With two or three exceptions, the suggestions of the "Evening Journal" having an adjustment of the controversy which threatens to divide the Union, for their object, have elicited from the Republican Press, in this and other States, responses in the spirit of these head lines. That our views encounter the "vigorous resistance" of our political friends, causes less of surprise than of regret.

We have, on two or three former occasions, startled our political friends by suggestions quite as distasteful. More than thirty years ago, when those with whom we acted, politically, were discussing the policy of rejecting Mr. Van Buren, as Minister to England, we remonstrated, first with Senators personally, and then in our Paper, predicting that such rejection would result in making Mr. Van Buren President. We stood alone, however, and the deed was done. Our prediction and its fulfilment [stet] are on record.

Again, a few years subsequently, when the United States Bank re-charter became an element and an issue in the Presidential Election, we shocked distinguished Statesmen, and brought the Whig Party down upon this Journal, by "cutting loose" from the Bank, and warning our Party that it "would never rise to the surface with that millstone around its neck."

We differ again with out political friends. That difference, however, would be very slight with most, and disappear entirely with others, if we could but look into the future from the same standpoint. To do this, it is indispensable that all should realise that the Presidential Election is over; that there was virtually but one question involved in the conflict, viz: that the Territory devoted, by the Missouri Compromise, to Freedom, should not be invaded by Slavery; that, the Freedom of Kansas assured, the Territorial question may now be safely left to natural laws; that, as a Party, we were indebted to the folly of our adversaries for the triumph we achieved, and that, until their aggressions were renewed, our mission was ended; and that, finally, the madness which swayed Pro-Slavery counsels for six years, has culminated in an openly avowed determination to Dissolve the Union.

When Republicans will "back down" long enough to look at the new issue presented, lifting their eyes and thoughts a little above the political horizon, they will discover that the duties of the Partisan and the Patriot harmonize; that the Principles of the Republican Party, derived from the political Fathers, teach devotion to the Union as our first duty. All high and holy aims and reforms can be best accomplished in the Union. Dissolved, the great experiment of Self-Government is a failure. Dissolved, the aspirations for pervading prosperity and happiness, a high civilization, and an exalted Nationality, vanishes.

We shall not consider the political bearings of the question, further than to say, that in doing our whole duty to the Union, we shall not, in any sense or degree, impair the strength or demoralize the organization of the Republican Party. If it were otherwise -- if there was anything in the Principles or Platform of the Republican Party inconsistent with the Laws, the Constitution, or the Union, who would doubt which way the path of duty leads, or hesitate to follow it? But happily there is no such conflict. There is perfect accordance and agreement between Republicanism and the Union. We can be faithful to both.

We come now to the consideration of the real question, the magnitude and fearfulness of which is but imperfectly comprehended. This question must have a violent or a peaceful solution. Its mighty import will be appreciated when we reflect that the consequences resulting from the former alternative are most to be dreaded! We should do all that can be done, in the way of justice, equality, conciliation and forbearance, to avert a conflict, but if all efforts in that direction prove fruitless, it is better to rebuke Treason, enforce the Laws, and preserve the Union, cost what it may, than suffer its Dismemberment.

But it is asked, what can be done? This question can be best answered when the popular mind tones down sufficiently to be willing that anything should be done. We are prepared to say that an efficient, but not revolting, Fugitive Slave Law should be passed, and that its passage should be followed by a repeal of Personal Liberty Laws. We are almost prepared to say, that Territories may be safely left to take care of themselves; and that, when the contain a Population which, under the Census, entitles them to a Representative in Congress, they may come into the Union with State Governments of their own framing, provided, of course, that they conform to the Constitution of the United States. This, in view of the surroundings of the Territory belonging to the Republic; in view of the fact that for four years, at least, Freedom will have fair play; and in view, also, of two other elements -- Emigration and the Census -- this, we say, almost constrains us to believe that we may now confide the future of the Territories to the intelligence and patriotism of those who are to inhabit them.

Or, if this suggestion is inadmissible, there is another, which contemplates a Division of the remaining Territory of the United States, as in 1820, when the Missouri Compromise Line was established. To this we shall be told that the compact was violated, and that the South cannot be trusted. Perhaps it would be so again, but not in our generation, or the next, nor, indeed, until the lessons of the last six years have been forgotten!

The prevalent sentiment, however, rejects all "Compromises," and that, if it is to be accepted as our ultimatum, terminates the controversy. And yet, what matter of difference between individuals, families, communities, States, or nations was ever settled except by "Compromise?" Wars, but for the spirit of "concession," would be interminable. Even Victorious Armies never refuse terms to the Vanquished. Conquered Cities, in the hour of capitulation, and at the mercy of the Victors, receive "concessions." Shall we, then, at variance with our own kindred, close the door against the possibility of an adjustment? Admit that, while threatening Treason, while organizing Armies to overthrow the Government, they have passed the boundary of negotiation, let us remember that they are blinded by passion, and endeavor to reason both for them and ourselves. That party to a controversy nearest right -- that party which is conscious of least wrong -- can best afford to manifest a spirit of conciliation.

But in this controversy we are not wholly blameless. If there are beams in our neighbor's eyes, there are motes in our own. Too many of us forget that when this Union was formed, Slavery was the Rule -- Freedom the Exception. While we -- climate, soil, and interest, favoring and seconding our sentiments and sympathies -- have been working out, other States, with adverse complications and elements, have worked more deeply into Slavery. Thousands upon thousands of our Citizens, swayed by feelings to which we are neither insensible nor indifferent, with no Slavery to oppose at home, have deemed it their duty to demand the Abolition of Slavery elsewhere, forgetting, in their zeal, that it exists in the Southern States under the Constitution, and with the consent of our Fathers, who bound themselves and their descendants to obey that Constitution. Societies have been formed, Presses established, Tracts distributed, and Emissaries sent into the Slave States, teaching that Slavery is sinful and that Slaves ought to be Emancipated. These lessons, in harmony with all the humanities of civilization, were easily learned. But in learning them, we did not find written on the same page, nor in the same chapter, that in our efforts to Abolish Slavery, we should provide indemnity to the Owners. When we refer, as we often do triumphantly, to the example of England, we are prone to forget that Emancipation and Compensation were provisions of the same Act of Parliament.

It will, and my be said, that we are forgetting the wrongs, encroachments, aggressions, and outrages of Slavery. True. We choose to do so just now. It is a new and novel position, for we have been all our life showing up the dark side of the Slavery Picture. But in view of a fearful calamity, there is no want of consistency or of fidelity, in going to the verge of conciliation with hope of averting it. Then after all honorable offers of agreement have been exhausted, -- if

"There comes a power
Into some of our best parts, and are at point
To show their open banner,
Mocking the air with colors idly spread,"

sustained by the reflection that we have done our duty in endeavoring to preserve Peace, we shall be prepared to go as far, and dare as much, as those whose impatient zeal may precipitate a conflict the horrors of which will add appalling Chapters to the History of the French Revolution.