-- Dilemmas of Compromise --


New-York Daily Tribune, February 23, 1861

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We have repeatedly said, and we once more insist, that the great principle embodied by Jefferson in the Declaration of American Independence, that governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed, is sound and just; and that, if the Slave States, the Cotton States, or the Gulf States only, choose to form an independent nation, they have a clear moral right to do so. We have never said, nor intimated, that this is a right to be claimed in a freak or a pet and exercised with the levity of a beau choosing his partner for a dance. We do not believe -- we have never maintained -- that a State might break out of the Union like a bull from a pasture -- that one State, or ten States, might take themselves off in a huff -- much less make a feint of going in order to be bribed to stay; but we have said, and still maintain that, provided the Cotton States have fully and definitively made up their minds to go by themselves, there is no need of fighting about it; for they have only to exercise reasonable patience, and they will be let off in peace and good will. Whenever it shall be clear that the great body of the Southern People have become conclusively. alienated from the Union and anxious to escape from it, we will do our best to forward their views.

There is no treason in believing that your section can do better out of the Union than in it; it is not culpable to act upon this conviction and seek to diffuse it. But robbing arsenals, seizing forts and armories, stealing the contents of mints and sub-treasuries, and firing on vessels bearing the flag and doing the work of the Union, are very different matters. If these may be done with impunity, then Government is a farce and treason impossible.

We beg the leaders of opinion to keep in view the distinction here indicated. We must not, in behalf either of the Union or of Freedom, trample down the great truth that "governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed." This was the fathers' doctrine, elucidated by their practice. Between their resistance to the Stamp Act and their Declaration of Independence, there intervened twelve years of earnest, patient, emphatic remonstrance and entreaty. They did not draw the sword until their last hope of a peaceful redress of grievances had perished. They did not even declare themselves independent until the cannon of Bunker Hill, the smoking ruins of Charlestown and Falmouth, the dogged determination of their British rulers to crush them under a red-handed despotism, had rendered further forbearance pusillanimous. If the South really wants to go alone, she need not be half so long securing that end by peaceful means as our Revolutionary Fathers were in reaching the point at which they made their choice between resistance unto blood and an abject submission.

As yet, there is no evidence that even South Carolina really wants the Union dissolved, while there is pretty clear evidence that every other State does not. The precipitation wherewith the Cotton States have been forced into a treasonable attitude; the violence, terrorism, and eagerness for bloodshed which have marked the whole course of the Secession movement; the uniform repugnance of the conspirators to submit the question of Union or Disunion to a direct vote of the People; and the emphatic majorities cast against Secession wherever the People have been allowed to pass upon its merits -- all these combine to prove the hollowness and emptiness of the pretense of Southern unanimity for Disunion. Let us have a free canvass and a fair poll throughout the South, and Secession will be overwhelmingly defeated. And, until it shall have accorded such a canvass and vote, it is a foul conspiracy, and no more entitled to be respected and deferred to than the pirate captain who has invaded and overawed the timorous savages of some tropical island is to be treated as the rightful Governor of such island.

None are so blind as those who will not see. These may confuse the right of Self-Government asserted by THE TRIBUNE with the right of Secession claimed and exercised by the Gulf States. The majority, however, are more discerning.