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make an unjust attack upon Belgium, I doubt whether the most fiery spouter at Exeter Hall would claim our sympathy for her on the ground that the war was waged by Protestants against Papists. And it is not very long since the universal clamour of the country forced the unwilling Government to undertake that perhaps somewhat unnecessary crusade against Russia, on behalf of a people, who are not only slave-owners, and slave-owners in an aggravated form, but also Mohammedans, polygamists, and barbarians. It was not till after the war was over that we awoke to the conclusion, that their overthrow, however it might affect the balance of power, would be an undoubted blessing to those millions of people whom their rule now keeps in a very abject state of degradation.
I do not think that the question between South and North is one that ought to be decided on sentimental grounds. I do not know that the former need object very much if it was. The fault with which she is charged is this : that her States have inherited, through no fault of theirs, a bad institution, which was bestowed upon them by ourselves, and, in truth (this is kept out of sight as much as possible), forced down their throats, not only without consulting them, but also in the teeth of their most vehement protestations. Viewed in this light, surely she is more deserving of pity than of condemnation, at least from us. And even taking that fault at its worst, and not allowing of any mitigating circumstances, surely it is not the only crime in existence. If the South is guilty of that one, the North has been guilty of crimes and villanies enough, even on this very negro question, to make our sympathy at least neutral, and deprive her of any right to share in it. And unless we are prepared to maintain that the fact of having succeeded to the inheritance of slavery is enough to deprive those who have so inherited of all claim to be considered in the light of human beings, is there no sentiment to be evoked on behalf of a people who, for four years, have been making a struggle for their independence, such as, perhaps, has no parallel in history ?
But, as I said, I do not think the decision of the question ought to be allowed to rest on sentimental grounds. If the Southerners have a right to withdraw from the Union, we ought to wish them success, even if the “ peculiar institution” were as black as it is sometimes painted. And whether they have that right, depends on the answer that may be given to these three questions. If upon any one of them an affirmative is returned, cadit quæstio.
1. Have nations any right to change their forms of government ?
2. Is this right stronger or weaker in the case of Americans ?
3. Is Secession to be considered as rebellion at all ?
There are thus three stages. A person who would not admit the right of Naples to throw off the yoke of the Bourbons, might admit that the people of Western Virginia had the right to throw off the government of their State, and set up for themselves, though, of course, it would not follow that President Lincoln had any right to do it for them. And a person who might insist on the inhabitants of the Kanawha Valley being kept under the Richmond Government whether they wished it or not, might still think that it was quite open to that Government to separate itself from the Federal Union.
Let us suppose the answer to the first question to be No. We will suppose a stanch believer in what used to be called the Divine Right of Kings, and now goes by that of the Cause of Order. No, says he. Rome, if she rose against the Pope—Venice, if she rose against Austria—would be grossly criminal. The movement which created the present kingdom of Italy was altogether abominable. It was very wrong in our ancestors to drive out James the Second, and in the Greeks to drive out the Turks.
Well, but without entering into that question, have not Americans, at any rate, a right to choose their own rulers ? Is there no precedent in their history for such a thing?
Yes, there is; but it is a bad one. The success of the thirteen colonies does not prove them to have been in the right. They had not even the beggarly excuse of being oppressed, as they themselves avowed. Franklin said that the revolt was upon a mere point of honour; and he ought to have known something about it, as he had a good deal to do with getting it up. But, however this may have been, from the moment their independence was recognised matters entered upon a new phase. By that recognition, George the Third placed the American Government in the position which his own had held.
But what government did he recognise ? Did he recognise the American Union as a single body? He recognised nothing of the kind. He recognised the thirteen colonies as separate, independent, and sovereign states. The Union was a creation of a later date. The States formed themselves into a federation for their common advantage, bound themselves to do or not to do certain specified acts, intrusted certain definite powers, or attributes of sovereignty, to the central government, and kept the rest to themselves. On the Divine Right theory, the rebels are not the seceding States, but President Lincoln and those who have aided him in trying to break off portions of those States, in order to form new ones.
But the question of Secession is something beyond this. It is not a justifiable breach of law, for it is not a breach of law at all. I am not concerned with the proofs of this assertion, though they are so clear, I think, that he who runs may read. To bring forward excerpts from the Federal Constitution, or from those of the different States, in support of it, would be alike tedious and unnecessary. I think that the abundance of proof that exists on this subject has done the Southern cause more harm than good; for its advocates, desirous of leaving nothing unsaid which might strengthen their case, have laid so much stress upon what Virginia said when she joined the Union, and what Kentucky said when she did so, and upon the way in which Washington and Hamilton, Madison and Jefferson expressed themselves about it, that they have run the risk of entangling their rights as freemen in a maze of technicalities. I shall avoid the danger and trouble of plunging into it, and content myself with saying that I believe that if, before seceding, South Carolina had referred her right to do so to any competent and impartial tribunal in the world, her claim must have been admitted on strictly legal grounds, without any reference to any motives she may have had for wishing it.