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Law as coercion creates racial categories in three chief ways (Haney López)

According to Haney López, pp. 116-123, “Law as Coercion,” in its coercive aspect law serves to create racial categories in three chief ways:

  1. Legal rules have shaped physical appearances
  2. Positive law has created the racial meanings that attach to physical features
  3. Positive law establishes the material conditions which often code for race.

[WBL p. 119]

“In the name of racially regulating behavior, laws CREATED racial identities” — Tennessee use of “mulattoes, mestizos, and their descendants” (Haney Lopez)

Second, positive law has created the racial meanings that attach to physical features. In a sense, this is the heart of the prerequisite cases, which at root embody the efforts of the courts to inscribe on the bodies of individual applicants the term “White” or “non-White.” These cases established as legal precedent the racial identities of the various faces and nationalities entering the United States at the turn of the century. Again, however, the racial prerequisites to naturalization are not the only laws that explicitly defined racial identities. Almost every state with racially discriminatory legislation also established legal definitions of race. It is no accident that the first legal ban on interracial marriage, a 1705 Virginia act, also constituted the first statutory effort to define who was Black.[6] Regulating or criminalizing behavior in racial terms required legal definitions of race.[7] Thus, in the years leading up to Brown, most states that made racial distinctions in their laws provided statutory racial definitions, almost always focusing on the boundaries of Black identity. Alabama and Arkansas defined anyone with one drop of “Negro” blood as Black; Florida had a one-eighth rule; Georgia referred to “ascertainable” non-White blood; Indiana used a one-eighth rule; Kentucky relied on a combination of any “appreciable admixture” of Black ancestry and a one-sixteenth rule; Louisiana did not statutorily define Blackness but did adopt via its Supreme Court an “appreciable mixture of negro blood” standard; Maryland used a “person of negro descent to the third generation” test; Mississippi combined an “appreciable amount of Negro blood” and a one-eighth rule; Missouri used a one-eighth test, as did Nebraska, North Carolina, and North Dakota; Oklahoma referred to “all persons of African descent,” [119] adding that the “term ‘white race’ shall include all other persons”; Oregon promulgated a one-fourth rule; South Carolina had a one-eighth standard; Tennessee defined Blacks in terms of “mulattoes, mestizos, and their descendants, having any blood of the African race in their veins”; Texas used an “all persons of mixed blood descended from negro ancestry” standard; Utah law referred to mulattos, quadroons, or octoroons; and Virginia defined Blacks as those in whom there was “ascertainable any Negro blood” with not more than one-sixteenth Native American ancestry.[8]

The very practice of legally defining Black identity demonstrates the social, rather than the natural basis of race. Moreover, these competing definitions demonstrate that the many laws that discriminated on the basis of race more often than not defined, and thus helped to create, the categories they claimed only to elucidate. In defining Black and White, statutory and case law assisted in fashioning the racial significance that by themselves drops of blood, ascertainable amounts, and fractions never could have. In the name of racially regulating behavior, they created racial identities.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996) Haney López, White By Law  , 118-119.
  1. [6]Finkelman, supra, at 2088. According to Finkelman, “This act also made the first stab at defining who was actually black. The law declared that anyone who was a child, grandchild, or great grandchild of a black was a mulatto under the statute. this meant that persons who were of one-eighth African ancestry were black for purposes of Virginia law.” See generally A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., and Barbara K. Kopytoff, Racial Purity and Interracial Sex in the Law of Colonial and Antebellum Virginia, 77 GEO. L. J. 1967 (1989).
  2. [7]See Raymond T. Diamond and Robert J. Cottrol, Codifying Caste: Louisiana’s Racial Classification Scheme and the Fourteenth Amendment, 29 LOY. L. REV. 255, 265 (1983) They argue that “[s]tate supported or initiated discrimination required racial definitions. The law could not separate what it failed to categorize.”
  3. [8]Paul Finkelman, The Color of Law, 87 NW. U. L. REV. 937, 955 n. 96 (citing PAUL MURRAY, STATES’ LAWS ON RACE AND COLOR [1950]).

“Peaceable Secession an Absurdity” (New York Evening Post, November 12, 1860)

52. Peaceable Secession an Absurdity

(New York Evening Post [Lincoln], November 12, 1860)

In behalf of the treachery and imbecility of the Administration at Washington the new doctrine is invoked that each state has a right peacefully to secede–that nullification of any particular law of Congress is to be resisted and punished by the government, but that secession, i.e., the absolute nullification and defiance of all such laws, and of the Constitution and of the Union, is perfectly right and within the power, at all times, of each and every state. The faithless members of the cabinet seek thus to shelter themselves and their partisans in disunion from resistance by the general government, while the imbeciles aim in the same way to find an excuse from [sic] shrinking from their duty of affirmative and energetic action for which they lack courage if not principle.

A more monstrous and absurd doctrine than that of the right of any state at its pleasure to secede from the Union has never been put forth. the government in such case would indeed be a mere rope of sand. According to this dogma, Cuba, after we shall have paid $200,000,000 for her purchase, as a state may at once secede, and leave the United States Treasury to place that small item to the account of “profit and loss.” Texas, when she came into the Union after we had paid many millions to discharge her debts, and other millions to go into her coffers, was and is entirely at liberty to secede with the booty. Each and all the states carved out of the Louisiana purchase, for which we also paid such an immense sum, may do the like.

So, too, states in which the largest amounts of the public property may be situated may at any time secede with that property. When the Pacific Railroad shall be constructed, at an expense of countless millions, paid from the common treasure, the two or three states through which it will run may decamp with the plunder and plant a custom-house on the site of our storehouses. Vermont, New Hampshire, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the other inland states, which will have contributed to these great disbursements, and in which states hardly a dollar of the public treasure is even [ever?] expended, are to look quietly and approvingly on the exodus of those which have been thus purchased and enriched at their expense, and to recognize the right of each of them to secede and take the property with them.

Again, if this right exists it exists at all times, until no two states remain united. What, then, would become of the national debt and the national credit? To whom would the creditors of the government look for payment? Should the government be, as it may at any time be, indebted on its stocks hundreds of millions of dollars, its creditors could look, in case of secession, only to the states which should remain united. Those which should have seceded and established independent governments could not be reached. The creditor could claim of them no percentage of liability. They would plead that they had never contracted, and that they had been only stockholders in a corporation in which there was no individual liability.

Nor could the continuing government of the United States compel the payment by the seceding state of a portion of the public debt. There would be no data from which a definite percentage could be assigned to it, nor would it have the ability to pay. If South Carolina finds it [161] necessary to repudiate at the outset by suspending specie payments, and (as already foreshadowed) by annulling even private debts due by its citizens to those of other states, it is plain that both ability and principle will be lacking for payment of her share (if it could be allotted) of the public debt. There is no court by which any fixed amount could be established as due from her on account of that debt, or which could issue execution for its payment. It results therefore that the seceding state could only be compelled to pay any share of the national debt (contracted on her account, as well as that of the other states) by war and reprisals by the general government. This puts an end to the idea of peaceable secession and the right of secession.

But can any of the democratic book-keepers tell us how (if payment could be compelled) they could make out the account current between the seceding state and the government, so as to strike a balance between the debit and the credit sides? Large amounts have been expended by the government on her account and within her borders. Forts for her harbors, light-houses, court-houses, coast-surveys, custom-houses, nonpaying postoffices and post routes, and salaries of the swarms of officers and leeches attendent upon all these, in addition to her undefinable share of the public debt, have all been paid. But then she has a credit side of the account also, which it will be impossible to adjust. How are we to ascertain the values and the proportions thereof to which she is entitled of the public arms and ammunitions of war, arsenals, ceded places, public edifices, ships of war, and of the public lands? Is there any court, or is there any form of action by which partition can be made of the territories? This last item is a very material one, for the only point of principle on which the secessionists take issue with the Republicans as to the platform of the latter (adopted at Chicago) is that of carrying slavery into the territories. What foothold or property in the territories will the seceders retain on leaving the Union? They will be foreign states, and we believe it has not yet been claimed, even by Judge Taney, that the laws of foreign states extend proprio vigore over the territories.

Another difficulty in making up the account with South Carolina would result from her claiming an almost incalculable credit for the disproportion of the public burdens which she fancies she has borne in the confederacy, by reason of what she considered the unequal operation of the various revenue laws.

Now, this right of secession, if it exist at all, is an absolute one, and a state has as much right to exercise it at one time as at another. If she may secede at will, she may do so in anticipation of war, or in time of [162] war. If she can secede when she chooses, she owes no allegiance to the government an hour after she decides to secede, but will then be just as independent of the government as she is of any other nation. In the midst of war, then, it will be the right of any state not only to desert our own government, but at the same time to ally herself with the enemy. The Hartford Convention complained that New England was heavily taxed, but not defended by the general government, and merely proposed to ask the consent of the government to expend in the defence of New England the taxes raised in New England. This was not claimed as a right, but the consent of the government was to be sought. This was hardly an approach to secession, but the democracy of that day did not tolerate even the proposition, and the Hartford Convention was execrated.

But the absurdity of this new doctrine of the right of secession is too palpable for serious argument. The government under such a principle could not have twenty-four hours of assured existence. Neither other nations, nor its own citizens, could have confidence in its permanence. It would lack the vital principle of existence, because it would wholly lack credit. Nobody would lend it a dollar, for nobody could be sure that it would hold together long enough to pay a six months’ loan, to say nothing of loans for long terms of years. The public faith, on which alone all who deal with governments can repose, would be utterly lacking. Business could have no security or stability, for men would not embark either their industry or their capital, unless under the shelter of laws and institutions not liable to change.

No–if a state secedes it is revolution, and the seceders are traitors. Those who are charged with the executive branch of the government are recreant to their oaths if they fail to use all lawful means to put down such rebellion. The people of no party base any confidence either in the fidelity or nerve of the Administration in Washington, but fear they will prove, some of them from inclination and others from timidity, practical allies of the revolutionists. They and their partisans have done all in their power to inflame and mislead the South, by charging upon the northern states the design of interfering with the rights of the people of the South, and the mercenaries here have co-operated in this false clamor and deception. The Administration, in relinquishing the government will endeavor to leave all possible embarrassments in the way of its successors, but we much mistake if those of its partisans here who have been foremost in the false work, will not be the first with whom the consequent mischief will come home to roost.

Howard Cecil Perkins, ed. Northern Editorials on Secession, Volume I (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1964), 158-162.

“The Practical Difficulties of Secession” (Philadelphia Press, December 21, 1860)

37. The Practical Difficulties of Secession

(Philadelphia Press [Douglas], December 21, 1860)

The members of the South Carolina Disunion Convention, as they approach the consideration of the practical questions involved in a faithful and thorough-going execution of their secession project, are beginning to realize some of the difficulties they will be compelled to encounter. It is a comparatively easy matter to burn down a house if no one attempts to arrest the flames, but it requires much laborious toil to erect a new one. Even if the efforts of the States which propose to secede should prove successful, they will not soon be able to erect a new Government which will be as useful and beneficent to them as the present Confederacy, notwithstanding their loud complaints against it.

If, by secession, they do not mean anything more than the adoption of empty resolves and pronunciamientos–the passage of ordinances repealing their ratification of the Federal Constitution, the resignation of leading Federal office-holders, and the virtual abolition of the Federal courts, they will certainly do much to alarm and agitate the American people, and to bring discredit upon the nation; but they will still virtually be in the Union. The convenience of the present Post Office system is acknowledged even now in South Carolina. They are not prepared to furnish a sufficient substitute for it. The best plan they have yet devised is to form some sort of an amicable arrangement with the powers that be at Washington, by which the postmasters of the Palmetto State will perform their duties as usual, while they refuse to recognize in any way the authority of the Federal Government, and consider their own local rulers the only ones they are obliged to respect and obey! If Mr. Buchanan adheres to the programme laid down in his message [123] and to the doctrines enunciated in the elaborate opinion prepared for him by the late Attorney General Black, he cannot well avoid collecting the Federal revenues at all Southern ports, even after the passage of secession ordinances; and if this duty is discharged, any State which assumes a rebellious attitude will still be obliged to contribute revenue to the support of the Federal Government or have her foreign commerce entirely destroyed. There will be no necessity for a collision unless some of the American forts are attacked, or the collection of duties meets with resolute and determined opposition. In either of these events, the National Government of this country will still have full power to vindicate its authority and to enforce compliance and respect, if those who rule its councils shall deem it expedient to avail themselves of the ample resources at its command.

All these obstacles must be entirely overcome, either by force, or by the connivance of the Federal Government, or by the consent of the States which remain in the present Confederacy, before any effort at secession can become completely successful, and before South Carolina or any of her discontented sisters can fully assume, among the Powers of the earth, a free and independent position. Many of the ablest men of our country have ridiculed the idea of “peaceable secession” as preposterous, and although it probably meets now with more favor than at any former period, it will be a singular event if we should fail to settle our existing quarrels within the Union, when we have common tribunals to appeal to, and yet preserve amicable relations during the progress of a dissolution of the Confederacy, and after so dire a calamity was consummated.

But, even supposing that a peaceable secession policy should prevail, and that the Gulf States should have but to declare their desire for independence to secure it, they could not rationally expect to form a new Government which would be more useful and advantageous to them than the present one has, up to this time, proved itself to be. No section of our country has derived greater benefits from the American Union heretofore than the very States in which the secession sentiment is most formidable–South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The anxiety of the latter to enter our Confederacy was a striking evidence of her appreciation of the advantages it could confer upon her, and certainly her anticipations must have been more than realized when we consider that we not only assumed and finally disposed of her long-standing quarrel with Mexico, by defeating and humiliating the latter, but that we paid off all her heavy old debts, and that, in wealth and prosperity, she has constantly [124] been increasing, with wonderful rapidity, since her annexation. Louisiana and Florida were purchased outright from foreign Governments, and owe to the power of the American Union not only the freedom they enjoy, but nearly all their prosperity. It required all the energy, and much of the treasure, of the Federal Government to finally subdue in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, the powerful Indian tribes which once inhabited them. The rich plantations, which now send forth their large annual products of cotton, would probably still be under the control of their aboriginal owners, if the forces of the United States had not driven them from their native haunts, and if the white settlers had not relied upon the support and protection of a great nation. South Carolina has always exercised in the councils of the nation quite as much, if not more, influence than any State of equal population, and has reaped her full proportion of all the benefits it has conferred. She complains that she has been onerously taxed, but she will find it utterly impossible, if her secession ordinance should really sever her connection with the Republic, to secure advantages equal to those she has heretofore enjoyed, without incurring a much larger expenditure than she has heretofore been subjected to. In what new Confederacy, or under what new system, can she be as well protected from foreign invasion and domestic insurrection, and have her rights at home and abroad as well secured, as under the one from which she appears so anxious to escape? The expense of our army and navy, of our diplomatic system, of our whole machinery of National Government, weighs but lightly on thirty-three States, but any new organization which approaches it in efficiency would be exceedingly burdensome to any small Confederacy.

Viewing the secession experiment in the most favorable light that its authors can possibly consider it, it is still full of embarrassments and perils; and while we trust that the Representatives of the North will be ready to do all in their power to remove every just cause of complaint, and to destroy every plausible pretext for a dissolution of the Union, we trust that when the prevailing excitement in the Cotton States subsides, their citizens will coolly and calmly consider this subject, in all its aspects, to ascertain whether it is not even better to bear the ills they have than to fly to others that they know not of.

Howard Cecil Perkins, ed. Northern Editorials on Secession, Volume I (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1964), 122-124.

“Antimiscegenation laws… sought to maintain social dominance along specifically racial lines, and at the same time, sought to maintain racial lines through social dominance” (Haney Lopez)

Naturalization and immigration laws are not, however, the only or even the most important laws that have influenced the appearance of this country’s populace. More significant may be the antimiscegenation laws, which appeared in the statutes of almost every state in the union until they were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1967.[3] These laws purported merely to separate the races. In reality, they did much more than this: they acted to prevent intermixture between peoples of diverse origins so that morphological differences that code as race might be more neatly maintained.[4] Antimiscegenation laws, like lynch laws more generally, sought to maintain social dominance along specifically racial lines, and at the same time, sought to maintain racial lines through social domination. As Martha Hodes argues, “racial hierarchy could be maintained primarily through the development of a rigid color line: if blacks and whites did not have children together, then racial categories could be preserved.”[5] Cross-racial procreation erodes racial differences by producing people whose faces, skin, and hair blur presumed racial boundaries. Forestalling such intermixture is an exercise in racial domination and subordination. It is also, however, an effort to forestall racial blurring. Antimiscegenation laws [118] maintained the races they ostensibly merely separated by insuring the continuation of “pure” physical types on which notions of race are based in the United States.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996) Haney López, White By Law  , 117ff.
  1. [3]The Supreme Court declared antimiscegenation laws unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967). See generally ROBERT J. SICKELS, RACE, MARRIAGE, AND THE LAW (1972).
  2. [4]See VIRGINIA DOMINGUEZ, WHITE BY DEFINITION: SOCIAL CLASSIFICATION IN CREOLE LOUISIANA, 56-62 (1986); Paul Finkelman, The Crime of Color, 67 TUL. L. REV. 2063, 2081-87 (1993).
  3. [5]Martha Hodes, The Sexualization of Reconstruction Politics: White Women and Black Men in the South after the Civil War, 3 J. OF THE HIST. OF SEXUALITY 402, 415 (1993).

“Without exception, every Mexican in the county was implicated…” (Scraps of Newspaper, Olmsted)

Contemplated Servile Rising in Texas.

The Galveston News publishes the following in relation to the late contemplated negro insurrection in Colorado county:

Columbus, Colorado Co., Sept. 9, 1856

The object of this communication is to state to you all the facts of any importance connected with a recent intended insurrection.

Our suspicions were aroused about two weeks ago, when a meeting of the citizens of the county was called, and a committee of investigation appointed to ferret out the whole matter, and lay the facts before the people of the county for their consideration. The committee entered upon their duties, and in a short time, they were in full possession of the facts of a well-organized and systematized plan for the murder of our entire white population, with the exception of the young ladies, who were to be taken captives, and made the wives of the diabolical murderers of their parents and friends. The committee found in their possession a number of pistols, bowie-knives, guns, and ammunition. Their passwords of organization were adopted, and their motto, “Leave not a shadow behind.”

Last Saturday, the 6th inst., was the time agreed upon for the execution of their damning designs. At a late hour at night, all were to make one simultaneous, desperate effort, with from two to ten apportioned to nearly every house in the county, kill all the whites, save the above exception, plunder their homes, take their horses and arms, and fight their way on to a “free State” (Mexico).

[504] Notwithstanding the intense excitement which moved every member of our community, and the desperate measures to which men are liable to be led on by such impending danger to which we have been exposed by our indulgence and lenity to our slaves, we must say the people acted with more caution and deliberation than ever before characterized the action of any people under similar circumstances.

More than two hundred negroes had violated the law, the penalty of which is death. But, by unanimous consent, the law was withheld, and their lives spared, with the exception of three of the ringleaders, who were, on last Friday, the 5th inst., at 2 o’clock P.M., hung, in compliance with the unanimous voice of the citizens of the county.

Without exception, every Mexican in the county was implicated. They were arrested, and ordered to leave the county within five days, and never again to return, under the penalty of death. There is one, however, by the name of Frank, who is proven to be one of the prime movers of the affair, that was not arrested; but we hope that he may yet be, and have meted out to him such reward as his black deed demands.

We are satisfied that the lower class of the Mexican population are incendiaries in any country where slaves are held, and should be dealt with accordingly. And for the benefit of the Mexican population, we would here state, that a resolution was passed by the unanimous voice of the county, forever forbidding any Mexican from coming within the limits of the county.

Peace, quiet, and good order are again restored, and, by the watchful care of our Vigilance Committee, a well-organized patrol, and good discipline among our planters, we are persuaded that there will never again occur the necessity of a communication of the character of this.

Yours respectfully,

John H. Robson,
H.A. Tatum,
J.H. Hicks.
} Cor. Com.

The Galveston News, of the 11th nst. has also the following paragraph:

“We learn, from the Columbian Planter, of the 9th, that two of the negroes engaged in the insurrection at Columbus were whipped to death; three more were hung last Friday, and the Mexicans who were implicated were ordered to leave the country. There was no proof against these last beyond surmises. The band had a deposit of arms and ammunition in the bottom. They had quite a number of guns, and a large lot of knives, manufactured by one of their number. It was their intention to fight their way to Mexico.”

[From the True Issue, Sept. 5]

We noticed last week the rumor that a large number of slaves, of Colorado county, had combined and armed themselves for the purpose of fighting their way into Mexico. Developments have since been made of a much more serious nature than our information then indicated. It is ascertained that a secret combination had been formed, embracing most of the negroes of the county, for the purpose of not fleeing to Mexico, but of murdering the inhabitants–men, women, and children promiscuously. To carry out their hellish purposes, they had organized into companies of various sizes, had adopted secret signs and passwords, sworn never to divulge the plot under the penalty of death, and had elected captains and subordinate officers to command the respective companies. They had provided themselves with some fire-arms and home-made bowie-knives, and had appointed the time for a simultaneous movement. Some two hundred, we learn, have been severely punished under the lash, and several are now in jail awaiting the more serious punishment of death, which is to be inflicted to-day. One of the principal instigators of the movement is a free negro, or one who had been permitted to control his own time as a free man.

Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey Through Texas; or, a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier (New York: Dix, Edwards & Co, 1857), 503-504.


“the lower class or ‘Peon’ Mexicans… taking the likeliest negro girls for wives” and “a greaser” (Scraps of Newspaper, Olmsted)

“the lower class or ‘Peon’ Mexicans… taking the likeliest negro girls for wives” (Matagorda Co.) ‘a greaser’ / JTT p. 502

MATAGORDA.–The people of Matagorda county have held a meeting and ordered every Mexican to leave the county. To strangers this may seem wrong, but we hold it to be perfectly right and highly necessary; but a word of explanation should be given. In the first place, then, there are none but the lower class or “Peon” Mexicans in the county; secondly, they have no fixed domicile but hang around the plantations, taking the likeliest negro girls for wives; and, thirdly, they often steal horses, and these girls, too, and endeavor to run them to Mexico. We should rather have anticipated Lynch law, than the mild course which has been adopted.

A VOTER.–As an evidence of the capacity of the Mexican population to discriminate in matters of State importance, it may be mentioned that at one of the polls held in this city, a greaser, who was challenged, was asked incidentally by a bystander, “who he voted for, for Governor?”

“Sublett,” was the reply.

“Who for Lieutenant-Governor?”

“Sublett,” rejoined the Mexican.

“Who for Representative?”

“Sublett,” again muttered this bombshell freeman.

Voters like that swelled the Anti American majority in Bexar. Boast of your triumphs, gentleman Bombshells.

Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey Through Texas; or, a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier (New York: Dix, Edwards & Co, 1857), 502.

Wanted–A Policy! (New-York Times, April 3, 1861)

Wanted–A Policy!

(New-York Times [Lincoln], April 3, 1861)

The Washington correspondent of one of our morning contemporaries says:

The point of embarrassment concerning Fort Sumpter, in the President’s mind, as announced with entire candor, is, that if it be yielded, and the Federal authority thus withdrawn under real or supposed necessity, similar reasons may be urged as to Fort Pickens and other points, which are not considered in the same category.

We should be very sorry to think that the President’s mind was embarrassed, or his action controlled, in any degree by such considerations at this late day. Undoubtedly in themselves they deserve serious and grave attention. But they should have been weighed and disposed of long ago. It is by no means a new discovery that much may be said on both sides of every question;–and persons who have nothing better to do may amuse themselves by such carefully balanced dialectics. But President Lincoln has duties and responsibilities on his hands which forbid his indulgence of such tastes. He is required to act,–and action requires decision. Certainly it is a momentous question whether Fort Sumpter should be evacuated or not:–there are many reasons to be urged for it and many against it. But Mr. Lincoln is under the necessity, after full consideration of both sides, to adopt one course or the other;–and when adopted he should act as if no objections had ever been urged against it. If he has decided to evacuate Fort Sumpter, he should do it, frankly,–not with apologies or useless “embarrassments.” The effect of such a step should have been considered long ago.

It is idle to conceal the fact that the Administration thus far has not met public expectation. The country feels no more assurance as to the future–knows nothing more of the probable results of the secession movement,–than it did on the day Mr. Buchanan left Washington. It sees no indication of an administrative policy adequate to the emergency,–or, indeed, of any policy beyond that of listless waiting [661] to see what may “turn up.” There are times when such a policy may be wise;–but not in presence of an active, resolute, and determined enemy. The new Confederacy is moving forward, towards the consummation of its plans, with a degree of vigor, intelligence, and success, of which, we are sorry to say, we see no indications on the part of the Government at Washington. In spite of the immense difficulties with which they have to content,–the poverty of the country, its utter lack of commerce, of an army and navy, and of credit,–the hostility of its fundamental principles to the sentiment of the Christian world, the utter hollowness of its reasons for revolution, and the universal distrust which it encounters everywhere,–in spite of all these obstacles and discouragements, we cannot conceal the fact that the new Government of which Jefferson Davis is at the head, has evinced a marvelous degree of energy, and is rapidly assuming the proportions of a solid and formidable Power. Within less than six months they have adopted a Constitution, organized a Government, put all its machinery into working order, established a commercial system and put it in operation, laid the basis of a financial department, organized an army, secured enormous stores and munitions of war, and put themselves in a position to offer a very formidable resistance to any attempted coercion on the part of the United States. And what has been done on our part against them? What single step has been taken by our Government, either to resist their movement from without, or to appeal with vigor and effect to the loyalty which still lives within their borders? Jefferson Davis will soon have an organized army of 30,000 men at his command:–suppose he decides to march into Mexico, or Virginia, or upon Washington,–what organized means have we to resist and defeat his schemes? They have adopted a revenue system for the express purpose of depleting and damaging our commerce:–what have we done to offset it? With a blindness and a stolidity without a parallel in the history of intelligent statesmanship, we have done everything in our power to aid their efforts, and crown their hostile endeavors with complete success.

The fact is, our Government has done absolute[ly] nothing, towards carrying the country through the tremendous crisis which is so rapidly and so steadily settling down upon us. It allows everything to drift,–to float along without guidance or impulse of any kind. This might do well enough, if the Southern States were pursuing the same policy. But while we are idle, they are active. While we leave everything at loose ends, they make everything tight and snug for the coming storm. Such a course can have but one result. The President must adopt some [662] clear and distinct policy in regard to secession, or the Union will not only be severed, but the country will be disgraced. No great community can drift into ruin, without losing character as well as prosperity. It must, at least, make an effort at self-preservation, if it would avoid the contempt inseparable from imbecility. A nation may be overcome by outward force, or destroyed by internal treachery;–but if it struggles nobly and gallantly against its enemies, whatever else it may lose, it preserves the respect of the world, as well as its own. We are in danger of losing everything–even honor. The public sentiment is already demoralized,–the heart of the people is deadened,–and the patriotism of the country is already paralyzed, to a degree which a year ago we should not have thought possible in any contingency. Rebellion in the popular judgment has ceased to be a crime. Treason has become respectable. Men throughout the North think and talk of the revolution which is crushing the best Constitution the world ever saw,–which is sweeping away a Government which has done more for popular rights and popular interests than any other the earth has ever known, as they would talk of a partisan canvass for control of a village corporation. Deeds of infamy, compared with which Arnold’s treason shines bright as the sun at noonday, excite scarcely a passing remark, and the fate of the great Republic of the Western world–the great Republic of human history–excites scarcely as much interest as the fluctuations of the Stock market, or the ups and downs of a local canvass.

What is the reason of this sad–this fearful change in the temper and tone of the country? Is patriotism a fiction? Have we suddenly discovered that Governments are but playthings–that loyalty is a delusion–that to stab a nation is to commit no crime? Or does the event vindicate the old faith that Democracy is a delusion–that the people are incapable of self-government, and that bayonets and cannon are the only security for law and order?

Is it not rather than the people have no leaders,–no representatives in the posts of power,–no men filled with the conscious sense of duty, and omnipotent to do what is right through faith in the people whose interests and rights they guard, and whose power they wield? One of the highest and noblest functions of a Government in a free country is to lead the nation,–to go forward as the national honor and welfare may call, and summon the people to rally to the standard set up in their defence. The people look to their Government for guidance in every great emergency. They look to it for courage, for vigor, for indomitable energy, for all the great qualities which give [663] success to nations and glory to success. And when the Government fails them, they are powerless. They have no other leadership–no other means of union–no possibility of making their wishes known or their will felt, but through the action of the Government to which they have intrusted their welfare and delegated their power.

It is the high, the imperative duty of President Lincoln, in this solemn crisis of the nation’s fate, to give the American people this guidance and leadership. He was perfectly right in saying at Springfield that upon his shoulders rests a responsibility more weighty than has ever fallen upon any one of his predecessors. That responsibility is not met by supervising the distribution of office. Mr. Lincoln should reserve his thoughts and his strength for nobler duties than presiding over the wranglings of hungry and selfish hunters for patronage and place. He wastes powers that belong to the nation,–he squanders opportunities which millions upon millions of gold will never bring back, for rescuing the nation from the most fearful perils. We shall not be suspected of any but the most friendly sentiments towards the President of the United States, when we tell him, what the courtiers who hang upon his favor will not dare to whisper,–that he must go up to a higher level than he has yet reached, before he can see and realize the high duties to which he has been called. He has spent time and strength in feeding rapacious and selfish partisans, which should have been bestowed upon saving the Union and maintaining the authority of the Constitution he has solemnly sworn to defend. He has not done what he was expected to do as soon as he should assume the reins of power–summon back, by word and act, the loyalty of the American people to the flag and the Government of their common country. The Union is weaker now than it was a month ago. Its foes have gained courage, and its friends have lost heart. Step by step the new Confederacy marches forward towards solid and secure foundations,–and day by day the bright hopes of the lovers of the Union fade and die away.

The Administration must have a policy of action,–clear and definite in the end it aims at, wise and resolute in the means employed, and proclaimed to the people as the standard around which they can rally. What it should be, it is not for us to say. That is a matter requiring wise and careful deliberation on the part of those who are responsible; but it should be decided upon promptly, and then carried into effect with steady and dauntless resolution.

The President has to decide whether he will enforce the law at the hazard of civil war,–or whether he will waive the exeuction of the law, and appeal to the people of the seceded States on behalf of the [664] Union. One or other of these courses he should lose no time in adopting,–simply because every day lost renders less possible the success of either. If he decides to enforce the laws, let him call Congress together and demand the means of doing it. If he decides upon Peace, let him proclaim his purpose,–and seek at once the confidence and favor of the people whom he desires to win. Let him first disarm the fears of War which now unite, by outward pressure, the Southern people,–and then let him proceed to organize a Union Party in every Southern State, and to strengthen and encourage it by all the legitimate means at his disposal. Why has Sam Houston, of Texas, been left to fight the battle of the Union alone,–without a word of encouragement, or promise of a man or a dollar from the Government at Washington? Why have the Union men in Louisiana been abandoned without an effort, to the despotism of the minority which has usurped control of their affairs? Why have the noble-hearted champions of the Union and the Constitution in Virginia and Tennessee and Kentucky, been ignored utterly in the use of the Executive patronage and in all the public action of the Federal Government? Simply, in our judgment, because the Administration has decided upon no means of meeting the secession movement,–because it has no Policy. It is going on blindly,–living from hand to mouth,–trusting in the chances of the future for deliverance from present and impending perils.

We trust this period of indecision, of inaction, of fatal indifference, will have a speedy end. Unless it does, we may bid farewell to all hope of saving the Union from destruction and the country from anarchy. A mariner might as well face the tempest without compass or helm, as an Administration put to sea amid such storms as now darken our skies, without a clear and definite plan of public conduct. The country looks eagerly to President Lincoln for the dispersion of the dark mystery that hangs over our public affairs. The people want something to be decided on–some standard raised–some policy put forward, which shall serve as a rallying point for the abundant but discouraged loyalty of the American heart. In a great crisis like this, there is no policy so fatal as that of having no policy at all.

Northern Editorials on Secession Volume II, 660-664.

“Our Foreign Relations” (New-York Daily Tribune, June 3, 1861)

423. Our Foreign Relations

(New-York Daily Tribune [Lincoln], June 3, 1861)

Whoever reads attentively the recent debate on American affairs in the House of Lords will find it difficult to detect therein any trace of that ill will toward our Government or disposition to aggravate our intestine troubles which is popularly supposed to animate the councils of the Western European Poewrs. That there are Britons high in rank and station who would see without profound regret the dismemberment and ruin of the Great Republic, we cannot doubt; that a kindred impulse is rife though latent among the dignitaries and courtiers of most monarchies, we believe; but that any of the Great Powers is disposed or likely to take any position or step calculated to disturb our international amity, we do not credit. On the contrary, the tone of the debate aforesaid, and of European official utterances generally, is marked by eminent dignity, moderation, and anxiety to give no just cause of offense to our Government or People.

Has this evident desire to maintain amicable relations with us been fairly met on this side of the water? We think not. In many quarters a disposition to take offense at trifles and aggravate slight differences into causes of serious quarrel has been manifested. Some of our valorous contemporaries have seemed to think that, since we are in for a fight anyhow, we might as well make a job of it, and polish off Great Britain, France, Spain, and perhaps two or three others, before we return to our plows, our anvils, and our ledgers. We dissent from this view altogether, insisting that we shall first finish up the little matter we have in hand, and then, if we have other accounts to settle, proceed with them seriatim, until the last shall have been fully adjusted.

A good deal of not unnatural feeling has been excited among us by the language of Lord John Russell importing thta our Government and that of Jeff. Davis are to be accorded respectively the rights of “belligerents.” We do not consider his expression felicitous, and we are confident that, if the subject were now to come up originally, different language would be chosen. But consider well the circumstances under which that language was uttered.

The doctrine that a government in fact is to be regarded by foreign powers as a government of right is emphatically of American origin. Up to this year, we have steadfastly commended and adhered to it. By virtue of it, we were among the first to recognize the independence of the South American republics, of Mexico and of Texas. By virtue of it, [973] our Minister at the French Court was the first to recognize the Republic of 1848. Respect for it paralyzed the tongues which would have gladly pleaded for a manly American protest against the bloody and perfidious Napoleonic usurpation of December, 1851. In virtue of it, we gave an early and emphatic recognition to the new Kingdom of Italy, in contravention of the historical rights of the Pope, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and a baker’s dozen of sovereign princes. By virtue of it, should the People of Hungary or of Ireland at any time declare themselves independent and expel the officials and the troops of their hereditary rulers, we shall undoubtedly and promptly recognize their separate Nationality and sovereignty. The right and wrong of their quarrel with those rulers is a matter with which we profess to have absolutely nothing to do. We simply state the American doctrine on this point, without caring to argue it. Having bravely and determinedly upheld it in the face of the Holy Alliance and in contempt of all the time-honored canons of European diplomacy, we cannot creditably repudiate it at the very first instance in which it is brought to bear on ourselves, and when all the world seems to be coming round to the position on which we formerly stood alone.

Now look at the case in its main aspects, as it was known in Europe at the moment when Lord John made his demonstration, premising that a foreign minister is not at liberty to discriminate between the late and the present of our quadrennial Administrations. He must deal with our Government as a unit subsisting in perpetuity, and having the sole guardianship of its own consistency.

In December last, the little State of South Carolina professed to secede from, and sever all connection with, the American Union. She thereupon seized the Federal arms and munitions on deposit in the Arsenal at Charleston, the Federal custom-houses within her boundaries–whereof that at Charleston must alone have cost several hundred thousand dollars–the money in the Federal Sub-Treasury, &c., &c.–and went to collecting revenue from imports in those stolen custom-houses in her own name exclusively, and for her own benefit. Of the forts in Charleston harbor, she seized all but the strongest, and closely invested that, planting battery after battery in ever-narrowing circles around it, and repelling by force the only two attempts ever made to replenish its slender stock of provisions. She arrested the U.S. Collector at Georgetown for high treason in attempting to continue the collection of revenue for the Union. The Federal Judge, Collector, &c., at Charleston renounced the service of the Union and entered that of the State. All these doings went on openly, ostentatiously, within two days’ [974] journey, by mail, of the Federal Metropolis, within three days’ steam of New-York; yet not a precept was issued, not a musket leveled, in behalf of the repudiated authority and violated laws of the Nation. Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas, rapidly following suit, stealing a million dollars from the Mint at New-Orleans, capturing all the forts and arsenals within their limits, save Fort Pickens and the inaccessible island strongholds within the geographical limits of Florida, seizing several Federal vessels and the Navy-Yard at Pensacola, while fully one-third of our little Army, hitherto employed in the defense of the inland frontiers of Texas, was first demoralized and then subjected to a capitulation by its traitorous commander, Twiggs, and even the stipulations made with him in its favor, were ultimately repudiated by his Confederate villains, who thus robbed the troops of their arms, and compelled them to surrender as prisoners of war.

This process went on unresisted, unobstructed, in the face and eyes of an Executive half of whose Ministers were deep in the councils of unequivocal traitors. But Congress also was in session throughout the three Winter months, and did nothing whatever to arrest it. Meantime, half of our Embassadors in Europe were helping on the treason, introducing the emissaries of Jeff. Davis furtively to the ministers of foreign affairs with whom they maintained official relations, and Mr. C. J. Faulkner volunteered a formal assurance to the French Government that no forcible resistance to the progress and triumph of Secession would be made by the Federal Government!

Now we state but the most obvious, undeniable truth when we say that if Austria, or Great Britain, or Russia, had suffered herself in like manner, and without a shadow of resistance, to be divested of Hungary, of Ireland, of Poland, respectively, the other Great Powers would have assumed that the separation was tacitly conceded and final. Authority which does not even try to enforce obedience, power which does not differ practically from impotence, is not understood in Europe–and can we wonder? Suppose Ireland, a single fortress excepted, were to-day free from the presence of a British official or soldier, and had so remained unmolested, unmenaced, for months, would not her independence be acknowledged outright by our Government? How could the natural and urgent demand for such recognition be plausibly resisted?

But a new Administration was installed at Washington three months ago. What then? Was Fort Sumter promptly reënforced and provisioned? Was it even given out that it would be so soon as the necessary force could be collected? Nay; was an expedition at once set on foot–no matter how secretly–to achieve that end? Were loyal collectors [975] appointed for Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, New-Orleans, and Galveston, to replace those who had forfeited if not formally abjured their offices by plunging into treason? Was any attempt promptly made, or even promised, to enforce the revenue laws of the Union in the ports of the disloyal States? The facts are on record. They speak for themselves.

But it is said that Lord John Russell and M. Thouvenel should not have received, even unofficially, the emissaries of our Sepoys. How so? did not Mr. Seward, our own Foreign Minister, hold conference after conference with their counterparts accredited to Washington? The propriety, the policy of so doing, is not now in question. For our own part, we cannot deem it unwise to hear what your adversary has to propose or suggest before proceeding to extremities with him. But it must not be forgotten that if Mr. Jeff. Davis’s envoys were liable to the treatment of traitors anywhere, it was at Washington, not at London or Paris; and that it ill became M. Thouvenel to refuse to receive Americans whom any Plenipotentiary at his Court commended to his distinguished consideration. We strongly suspect, though we do not know, that Messrs. Yancey and Mann were equally favored by Mr. Dallas at London.

What the Unionists of America ask of Europe is simply and only fair play. If with this we cannot thrash the Secessionists into good behavior–promptly, and thereby, conclusively–then we will frankly and heartily acknowledge their independence. They pretend to be accredited and sustained by the Eight Millions of Whites in the seceded States, and thence argue that they cannot be beaten. Their conclusion would be safe is their promises [premises?] were true; but they are not. We feel sure that this War against the Union is the result of years of conspiracy and plotting–that it was fermented by systematic fraud and falsehood–that it has been swelled to its present formidable proportions by wholesale and persistent lying on the stump, lying through the newspapers, and lying by telegraph, until a great portion of the Southern People are utterly deluded and driven to frenzy by assertions that the North envies and hates them, is bent on their destruction by fire, famine, and slaughter, and is raising vast armies to steal their slaves, burn their houses, ravage their fields, and outrage their wives and daughters. Give us a fair chance to disabuse them, and then let them have a fair, peaceful election, and the South would give a Union majority to-morrow, as the election of last Winter clearly indicated. Deceived, maddened as they are, there is still a very large minority of the Southern PEople, and especially of the more intelligent and responsible classes, who still at heart “carry the flag and step to the music of the Union.” Silenced by [976] terrorism, compelled to vote for Secession at the point of the bowie knife, to surrender their property to the horse-leech exactions of the traitors, and even to take up arms in support of treason, they yet sight for the halcyon days of peace and security so “vilely cast away,” and hope for their return through the triumph of the armies now mustering for the defense of the integrity of the Nation. All we ask of Europe is to be well let alone until we shall have had a fair opportunity to demonstrate that inflexible purpose of the American People not to be split up into half a dozen miserable Venezuelas and Nicaraguas, but to maintain the Republic in its entirety and with its recognized geographical limits as they appear on any reputable Atlas or globe. Let the Old World remain strictly neutral, refusing to lend money to either party, or to harbor the priveteers [sic] of either, and if we do not vindicate our right to be a great nation, we will agree to be content with the secondary position to which dismemberment must temporarily consign us. We ask but a clear field and no favor, and may God defend the Right!

Northern Editorials on Secession Volume II, 972-976.

“Will the Union be Preserved?” (Newburyport Daily Herald, May 24, 1861)

363. Will the Union be Preserved?

(Newburyport (Mass.) Daily Herald [Lincoln], May 24, 1861)

Will the Union be Preserved? We have adopted a certain course of proceedure [sic] to suppress rebellion, and whether that course was agreeable to individual parties at the outset or not, it being entered upon, there is but one thing left, to wit: to fight it to the end. Upon this all are agreed. What will be the result, it is impossible for any man to say with certainty. We can only now appreciate and applaud the patriotism thta is ever ready at our country’s call, to sustain a government which has never oppressed but always blessed all that sought its protection. It is a terrible necessity that can demand war between brothers and countrymen; and we can only justify war upon the grounds of that very necessity–that all other expedients have failed, that nothing else will answer, and that this will restore the country to union and peace, to [840] justice and order. Whether it will so result, depends upon facts not yet determined. Is this rebellion, or is it revolution? that is, is it the work of a few who have misled or over-awed the many, or is it the wish and fixed determination of a large majority at the South, that the Union shall be dissolved? is it the result of a temporary and transitory excitement, or is it a conscientious conviction, for which they will suffer and endure?

In our revolution of 1776, Great Britain mistook the nature and character of the contest. They deemed it a rebellion that could be crushed, and thus loyalty restored. It was not simple rebellion, but the firm determination of the people to be separate, free and independent; and when afterwards all else could have been satisfactorily arranged, the colonies would not assent to a re-union to the British crown. They came here and blockaded our ports, defeated our armies, and subdued the country step by step from Bunker Hill to Savannah; but they did not accomplish anything in subduing the people–the unconquerable will still remained, and eventually triumphed. It remains for us to prove whether our conflict arises from a conspiracy on the part of political leaders, in rebellion against the federal government, or is such a struggle on the part of the people that we should denominate it a revolution. If it is the first, defeat in the field will quell it, and the states may return to their allegiance, as stars driven from their orbits for a day, by the laws of gravi[ta]tion on which our solar system rests, come back to repeat their endless rounds about the great center; if it is the latter, battles may be lost or won and it will not restore a government founded upon the voluntary action of the people, in which the states hold their places not as conquered provinces, but as co-equal partners. It is not to be presumed that great states, many of them equal in extent to powerful kingdoms–indeed much beyond any kingdom or empire of Europe, save Russia, and inhabited by millions of freemen, brave, high spirited, energetic and jealous of their rights, can be held together except by voluntary cohesion; and if they could be held together by any other means, it would not be the restoration of the union that had its birth from the revolution of 1776.

There never could be a doubt with any sane man of the ability of the North to march over the South. It cannot be done in a day, as some in their impatience would have it, for it is not so light a task that we may intrust it to raw recruits with a supply of one day’s rations; but it can be done, and if the war continues will be done, giving us possession of every important post in the country. If it were necessary, we could clear off the thousand millions [sic] of square miles so that not a city or [841] cultivated field would remain; we could exterminate the nine millions of white people and re-settle–re-people the lands. There is no want of ability; and if such a work was demanded, there would be no want of a will. Never were twenty millions of people so strong and so well able to bear the losses of war as the twenty millions of the loyal states; never was a nation that could so speedily call into existence armies and fleets. Less than forty days have elapsed since President Lincoln called for troops, and already three hundred thousand have said–we are ready; ships have been offered of all classes and in any numbers; more than a million dollars a day have been actually contributed for the nation’s defence, and any amount tendered on call, while at the same time the national funds have advanced on the markets; arms have been flowing into the country and munitions of war have been accumulated more rapidly than was ever known in the history of any people; and we may therefore say without fear of contradiction, that we are a nation of unparelleled [sic] strength and resources.

There is no doubt at all, then, that we shall defeat the South. But that does not decide the question of the restoration of the union of co-equal States. That Union was not based upon compulsion, and it cannot rest upon force. England can conquer Ireland and hold it, without violence to her constitution; Austria can garrison and retain Venetia, without a change of laws; Russia can incorporate a subjected people, like the Poles, in accordance with her policy; but we cannot have States in such a condition. If the Union is ever restored, South Carolina must be the equal of Massachusetts, and Virginia of New York; and they must remain together of their own will.

Let us understand the nature and aim of this war. It is not one of conquest and subjection; for after peace we should not know what to do with a conquered and subjected people. It is not a war based upon prejudice, passion or revenge; if so, it were unworthy of us and would deserve no support. We have suffered enough and suffered long, but God forbid that we should seek redress in blood. It is not a war for changing any institutions of the seceded States; for that would be a revolution on our part and not theirs. They have the right of local self government and must retain it; and the peculiar institution of slavery could not be overthrown by arms without bringing ruin to the land. It is not a war that looks at disunion as a result. We have been surprised to hear people say–“we’ll whip them and then let them go,” “we will fight, but that fight must end end the Union, for we shall never be on terms to live together again.” If disunion is an inevitable result, no man can justify himself in the waste of blood or treasure in war; nor would the [842] different sections at the close of the war be in so good a condition to arrange terms of separation, as they would to-day.

The only grounds upon which we can justify civil war–so unnatural a war between twin States, between families of the same lineage and blood, who have a common country, a common history, and the same language and religion–is on the ground of its necessity to sustain a government for the good of the whole, that is now threatened by the rebellion of a part. The object is not to overthrow, but to build up; not to destroy, but to restore; not to conquer the people of any State, but to relieve them from the domination of rebel chiefs. If the people deliberately and intelligently determined upon their action in the dozen States that are in rebellion, as did our fathers in the revolution, or if without that deliberation and intelligence, disunion had become a “fixed fact,” from which war could not rescue us, then we might hesitate; but so it is not. Fanatical and ambitious leaders counted upon the weakness of the central government, and upon the aversion of the North to sacrifice in war; and usurping power they precipitated secession. The people were not consulted; they were threatened, and terrified, and bowing themselves for the time submitted. It is to free the people from military despotism and the prevailing terror that our troops are facing southward, that they may bring States back untrammelled to anchor in the Union and fasten to the Constitution. We see how this is being done; Baltimore has been relieved of mobs, and Maryland swings back to her old place in the line; St. Louis was rescued from the grasp of a traitor governor, and Missouri resumes her upright position; Col. Anderson goes to Kentucky, and before he reaches the State the legislature requires the troops to swear allegiance to the national constitution; Western Virginia hails the stars and stripes and is sanguine that she can bring back that State; Tennessee is in the secession net, but Johnson and Etheridge and Nelson feel sure of the people. All through the Border States the tide has turned; and our troops instead of being surrounded by enemies as they advance, will be hailed as friends and deliverers. North Carolina that went out unanimously, will find an uprising of her own people; and so it will be in every State till the home of Sam Houston is reached, and his bugle notes call the people to duty along the valley of the Rio Grande.

We feel that our government is in the right and must succeed, though not with a light struggle or a speedy victory; and this is the only ground–that they go as deliverers of the people of the South, and the defenders not only of the National Constitution and of all their local interests on which we could be right. [sic] If we admit that it is to restore them to any [843] thing less than that full and perfect condition in which they have heretofore been, as co-equal states and self-governing communities, then we should have no more justification for hte shedding of one drop of human blood than has Jefferson Davis or Beauregard.

Northern Editorials on Secession Volume II, 839-843.