The Daily Picayune, New Orleans

November 4, 1860

What Is the True Issue?


Text provided by Drew McMichael from Dumond, Southern Editorials on Secession.

We are on the eve of a most important event. The result of the election just at hand may be fraught with momentous consequences. A determination is openly proclaimed in many quarters not to abide by the decision of a majority, if it secure a sectional triumph; and a great nation, blessed beyond all others in its basket and its store, but unfortunately torn by hostile and contending factions, seems on the very verge of revolution.

The gravity of the occasion suggests the inquiry, what is the extent of the wrongs suffered, that so arouse the fears and passions of men as to obliterate the influence of patriotism, and outweigh every consideration of public and private interest? What cause have men of the South to appeal to the god of battles for justice? On what issue is the determination made up to seek safety in a disruption of the government which has only shown an almost unlimited capacity for good?

Those who now strive to excite a tempest of popular passion, declare the election of the chief of a sectional party sufficient cause for resistance; but, as if conscious of the weakness of such an issue before a people reverencing constitutional forms of action and taught the duty of yielding to the voice of a majority, they triumphantly ask, in the manner of the most positive assertion, has not the constitution been often violated? Has not outrage followed on the heels of outrage, and forbearance but encouraged aggression, until honor, and manliness, and safety, are only to be maintained by resistance? Aroused to jealousy by the fact that the free States, if united in sentiment, can control the majority of numbers, in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and have in their power the distribution of the spoils of office and the direction of the policy of the government -- excited beyond measure by the aggressive tendency of this Northern sectional party, that even now exults in the prospect of victory, and proclaims its irreconcilable hostility to slavery, they look back on the closed issues of the past, and all the bleeding wounds, cicatrized by time, open afresh. They seem to see but one continued series of assaults and weak defenses; one perpetual chain of concessions to be followed by those still more vital to the rights of the States, and these united in one bill of complaint are presented to the people, as an irresistible argument to stir them up to immediate and concerted resistance.

But can men of the South revive the strifes of the past to render the present issue with the North more strong? Is our cause of complaint so serious? Have the slave States been constantly suffering wrong, while possessing themselves in patience, always yielding yet never satisfying the grasping demands of the free States? Let us appeal to facts for a decision.

From the adoption of the constitution to the election of Martin Van Buren -- from 1789 to 1841 -- a period of sixty-two years, a Southern man occupied the honored post of Chief Executive of the nation, with the exception of the single term of each of the two Adams' from Massachusetts.

During this period -- that of nearly two generations -- two-thirds of the foreign missions and the more important of domestic offices were enjoyed by Southern men.

From 1841 to 1860, but two Presidents have been elected -- Harrison and Fillmore -- who were not emphatically the choice of the South and really nominated and elected by the South. Of the six Presidents since 1841, three were Southern men.

It was the boast of Southern statesmen as late as ten years ago that the South had dictated the domestic policy of the nation. The purchase of Louisiana Territory was at the instigation of the South.

The annexation of Texas was conceived by Southern minds and achieved by Southern votes.

The war of 1812, from which the country emerged with so much glory, was voted and sustained by the South.

The war with Mexico, which added an empire in extent to the territory of the Republic, is due to the policy of men of the South thus extending our Southern boundaries from the western limits of Texas to the Pacific Ocean. Of all this has the South reason to complain?

But our position is scarcely less improved in these series of years in regard to the question of slavery. If, under the operation of the laws of climate and production, slavery has been extinguished in that little patch of States denominated New England, in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, the purchase of the Territory of Louisiana has given us Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri as slave States -- a region of country much larger than that from which State sovereignty has eradicated human bondage.

The annexation of Texas, in 1845, devoted to slavery a territory equal to all New England, New York and New Jersey, and the acquisition of New Mexico by conquest, in which slavery has been established by territorial law, carries the institution two degrees above the line of the Missouri Compromise. Can we complain that the territorial limits of slavery have been circumscribed, or go back to this history of its extension to strengthen the catalogues of our grievances ?

But, it is said, the perpetual agitation of this question in and out of Congress has driven the South to unjust concessions, every one of which should have been made the cause of resistance to the Federal Government; and that each as it followed the other in the order of succession increased the intolerance and aggressions of the free North. The Missouri Compromise was the first in order. If it was wrong, the South has to blame only itself; for it came from a representative of a slave State, and was supported by the almost unanimous vote of Southern delegates in both Houses of Congress. It was ratified again and again by the popular vote of the slave States, until it came to be regarded to have almost as binding a character as the constitution itself.

The next great struggle on the question of slavery resulted in the compromise bill of 1850. Here again the South gave birth to the act, and it was sustained, not only by the Southern vote in Congress, but was ratified by the people themselves. Georgia and Mississippi and South Carolina made the issue of resistance against it, and the people, with majorities unprecedented in any political contest, sustained the work of the noble patriots of that gloomy day. The South is then precluded by its own action from reopening the issues then settled and making them living questions at this time. Right or wrong, they belong to the dead past. A golden era of peace and general accord followed, until the elements of sectional strife were again let loose from their sealed cavern by the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas and Nebraska bill.

Whether the South originated this act or not, it united in almost solid phalanx to sustain it, while the North was almost alone in opposition to the measure.

This reopened the agitations happily set at rest, and again plunged the country into an excitement which has resulted in the birth of a party that now stands avowedly sectional, openly aggressive, and by its doctrines, insults and defies the South. But it has to make a forward step to present a tangible issue that can be met only by a revolution. Its principles are dangerous if an attempt be made to put them in practice. No man with a Southern heart will defend its fanatical fury, or excuse its menacing attitude towards those States coequal with the free commonwealths. But can we look back upon the history of the past and find serious reason to complain, except it be of our own blindness and folly? Can we hope to strengthen the issue now proposed by accumulating with it the series of acts, or any one of them, alluded to in this brief sketch?

The very agitation of which we complain has in one respect accrued to our benefit. It has evolved the true principles on which the institution of slavery is based. It has convinced all Southern men of the moral right, the civil, social and political benefit of slavery. It has done more; it has modified the opinion of a large number of men in the free States, on this subject, and is gradually changing the opinion of the world -- bringing it to regard slavery with more liberality.

The number of slaves has increased in a remarkable ratio, and today is stronger on the whole frontier line of the free States than it was ten, nay five years ago.

These notes of history cannot be denied, and when we meet the crisis created by the ballot of the nation about to be cast, let it be remembered that we have no cause to resist, except the unconstitutional, the weak, the untenable one of having lost our choice for the President of the Republic. The movement of demagogues and politicians to make this election, if adverse to the South, an opportunity for secession -- which we have previously shown is but a word to mask the idea of revolution -- is full of imminent peril to the South, not to the Union as we have been supposed to have asserted. Upon an issue so weak, to go into a contest which involves all the consequences of treason, the South must fail, for she cannot hope for accord among the citizens of anyone State. The time may come when disunion, with all its consequences, must be chosen, but a failure now precludes future confidence in leaders or hope in resistance.

Let every Southern man feel it to be a duty he owes not simply to his country, but to his family and himself, to vote in the coming election so that he shall in no manner countenance the idea that his State or his parish is in favor of resisting the decision of the ballot. The home perils which a contrary course involve are of the most terrible character. Nations die a terrible death, just in proportion to their strength and vitality. If it be the destiny of the Union now to perish, none can estimate the throes of agony, the terrible scenes of distress, which will precede it. If the fires of civil war be kindled -- and kindled they must be by any formidable movement in hostility to the Federal Government -- they will burn until all is consumed that is perishable, and the land become a waste over which shall brood the silence of another and hopeless desolation.