The Great Conspiracy

“Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States,
that by the accession of a Republican Administration, their Property and
their Peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never
been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample
evidence to the contrary has all the while existed, and been open to
their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of
him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches,
when I declare that ‘I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to
interfere with the Institution of Slavery in the States where it
exists.’ I believe I have no lawful right to do so; and I have no
inclination to do so. Those who nominated and elected me, did so with
the full knowledge that I had made this, and many similar declarations,
and had never recanted them. * * *

“I now reiterate these sentiments; and in doing so, I only press upon
the public attention the most conclusive evidence of which the case is
susceptible, that the Property, Peace, and Security of no Section are to
be in any wise endangered by the now incoming Administration. I add,
too, that all the protection which, consistently with the Constitution
and the laws, can be given, will be cheerfully given to all the States,
when lawfully demanded, for whatever cause–as cheerfully to one Section
as to another.

“I take the official oath to-day with no mental reservations, and with
no purpose to construe the Constitution or laws by any hypercritical
rules. * * *

“A disruption of the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now
formidably attempted. I hold that, in contemplation of Universal Law,
and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual.
Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all
National Governments. It is safe to assert that no Government proper
ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.
Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National
Constitution, and the Union will endure forever–it being impossible to
destroy it, except by some action not provided for in the instrument

“Again, if the United States be not a Government proper, but an
Association of States in the nature of a contract merely, can it, as a
contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it?
One party to a contract may violate it–break it, so to speak; but does
it not require all, to lawfully rescind it?

“Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that,
in legal contemplation, the Union is perpetual, confirmed by the history
of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It
was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was
matured and continued in the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It
was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States
expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the
Articles of Confederation, in 1778; and, finally, in 1787, one of the
declared objects, for ordaining and establishing the Constitution, was
‘to form a more perfect Union.’ But, if destruction of the Union by
one, or by a part only, of the States, be lawfully possible, the Union
is less perfect than before, the Constitution having lost the vital
element of perpetuity.

“It follows, from these views, that no State, upon its own mere motion,
can lawfully get out of the Union; that Resolves and Ordinances to that
effect, are legally void; and that acts of violence within any State or
States against the authority of the United States, are insurrectionary
or revolutionary, according to circumstances.

“I therefore consider that, in view of the Constitution and the laws,
the Union is unbroken, and, to the extent of my ability, I shall take
care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the
laws of the Union shall be faithfully executed in all the States. * * *

“I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared
purpose of the Union, that it will Constitutionally defend and maintain

“In doing this, there need be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall
be none, unless it is forced upon the National Authority.

“The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the
property and places belonging to the Government, and to collect the
duties and imposts; but, beyond what may be necessary for these objects,
there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the People

“The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished in all parts
of the Union.

* * * * * * *

“Is there such perfect identity of interests among the States to compose
a new Union, as to produce harmony only, and prevent renewed Secession?
Plainly, the central idea of Secession is the essence of anarchy. A
majority, held in restraint by Constitutional checks and limitations and
always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and
sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a Free People. Whoever
rejects it, does, of necessity, fly to anarchy, or to despotism.
Unanimity is impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent
arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority
principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left.

* * * * * * *

“Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We cannot remove our
respective Sections from each other, nor build an impassable wall
between them. A husband and wife may be divorced, and go out of the
presence and beyond the reach of each other; but the different parts of
our Country cannot do this. They cannot but remain face to face; and
intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Is
it possible, then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more
satisfactory after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties,
easier than friends can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully
enforced between aliens, than laws can among friends? Suppose you go to
War, you cannot fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides,
and no gain on either you cease fighting, the identical old questions,
as to terms of intercourse, are again upon you.

“This Country, with its Institutions, belongs to the People who inhabit
it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can
exercise their Constitutional right of amending it, or their
Revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. I cannot be ignorant
of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of
having the National Constitution amended. While I make no
recommendations of Amendments, I fully recognize the rightful authority
of the People over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the
modes prescribed in the instrument itself; and I should, under existing
circumstances, favor, rather than oppose, a fair opportunity being
afforded the People to act upon it. * * *

“The Chief Magistrate derives all his authority from the People, and
they have conferred none upon him to fix terms for the separation of the
States. The People themselves can do this also, if they choose; but the
Executive, as such, has nothing to do with it. His duty is to
administer the present Government, as it came to his hands, and to
transmit it, unimpaired by him, to his successor.

* * * * * * *

” * * * While the People retain their virtue and vigilance, no
Administration, by any extreme of weakness or folly, can very seriously
injure the Government in the short space of four years.

“My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this whole
subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an
object to hurry any of you, in hot haste, to a step which you would
never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time;
but no good object can be frustrated by it. Such of you as are now
dissatisfied, still have the old Constitution unimpaired, and, on the
sensitive point, the laws of your own framing under it; while the new
Administration will have no immediate power, if it would, to change
either. If it were admitted that you who are dissatisfied, hold the
right side in the dispute, there still is no single good reason for
precipitate action. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm
reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored Land, are still
competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.

“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is
the momentous issue of Civil War. The Government will not assault you.
You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You
have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the Government, while I
shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend it’.

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be
enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds
of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every
battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone,
all over this broad Land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when
again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our

Strange, indeed, must have been the thoughts that crowded through the
brain and oppressed the heart of Abraham Lincoln that night–his first
at the White House!

The city of Washington swarmed with Rebels and Rebel sympathizers, and
all the departments of Government were honey-combed with Treason and
shadowed with treachery and espionage. Every step proposed or
contemplated by the Government would be known to the so-called
Government of the Confederate States almost as soon as thought of. All
means, to thwart and delay the carrying out of the Government’s
purposes, that the excuses of routine and red-tape admitted of, would be
used by the Traitors within the camp, to aid the Traitors without.

No one knew all this, better than Mr. Lincoln. With no Army, no Navy,
not even a Revenue cutter left–with forts and arsenals, ammunition and
arms in possession of the Rebels, with no money in the National
Treasury, and the National credit blasted–the position must, even to
his hopeful nature, have seemed at this time desperate. To be sure,
despite threats, neither few nor secret, which had been made, that he
should not live to be inaugurated, he had passed the first critical
point–had taken the inaugural oath–and was now duly installed in the
White House. That was something, of course, to be profoundly thankful
for. But the matter regarded by him of larger moment–the safety of the
Union–how about that?

How that great, and just, and kindly brain, in the dim shadows of that
awful first night at the White House, must have searched up and down and
along the labyrinths of history and “corridors of time,” everywhere in
the Past, for any analogy or excuse for the madness of this Secession
movement–and searched in vain!

With his grand and abounding faith in God, how Abraham Lincoln must have
stormed the very gates of Heaven that night with prayer that he might be
the means of securing Peace and Union to his beloved but distracted
Country! How his great heart must have been racked with the
alternations of hope and foreboding–of trustfulness and doubt!
Anxiously he must have looked for the light of the morrow, that he might
gather from the Press, the manner in which his Inaugural had been
received. Not that he feared the North–but the South; how would the
wayward, wilful, passionate South, receive his proffered olive-branch?

Surely, surely,–thus ran his thoughts–when the brave, and gallant, and
generous people of that Section came to read his message of Peace and
Good-will, they must see the suicidal folly of their course! Surely
their hearts must be touched and the mists of prejudice dissolved, so
that reason would resume her sway, and Reconciliation follow! A little
more time for reflection would yet make all things right. The young men
of the South, fired by the Southern leaders’ false appeals, must soon
return to reason. The prairie fire is terrible while it sweeps along,
but it soon burns out. When the young men face the emblem of their
Nation’s glory–the flag of the land of their birth–then will come the
reaction and their false leaders will be hurled from place and power,
and all will again be right. Yea, when it comes to firing on the old,
old flag, they will not, cannot, do it! Between the Compromise within
their reach, and such Sacrilege as this, they cannot waver long.

So, doubtless, all the long night, whether waking or sleeping, the mind
of this true-hearted son of the West, throbbed with the mighty weight of
the problem entrusted to him for solution, and the vast responsibilities
which he had just assumed toward his fellow-men, his Nation, and his

And when, at last, the long lean frame was thrown upon the couch, and
“tired Nature’s sweet restorer” held him briefly in her arms, the smile
of hopefulness on the wan cheek told that, despite all the terrible
difficulties of the situation, the sleeper was sustained by a strong and
cheerful belief in the Providence of God, the Patriotism of the People,
and the efficacy of his Inaugural Peace-offering to the South. But alas,
and alas, for the fallibility of human judgment and human hopes!
Instead of a message of Peace, the South chose to regard it as a message
of Menace;* and it was not received in a much better spirit by some of
the Northern papers, which could see no good in it–“no Union spirit in
it”–but declared that it breathed the spirit of Sectionalism and
mischief, and “is the knell and requiem of the Union, and the death of

[“Mr. Lincoln fondly regarded his Inaugural as a resistless
proffering of the olive branch to the South; the Conspirators
everywhere interpreted it as a challenge to War.”–Greeley’s Am.
Conflict, vol. i., p. 428.] Bitter indeed must have been President Lincoln’s disappointment and
sorrow at the reception of his Inaugural. With the heartiest
forgiveness, in the noblest spirit of paternal kindness, he had
generously held out his arms, as far as they could reach, to clasp to
his heart–to the great heart of the Union–the rash children of the
South, if they would but let him. It was more with sorrow, than in
anger, that he looked upon their contemptuous repulsion of his advances;
and his soul still reproachfully yearned toward these his Southern
brethren, as did that of a higher than he toward His misguided brethren,
when He cried: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets,
and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have
gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens
under her wings, and ye would not!”

On the day following his Inauguration, President Lincoln sent to the
United States Senate the names of those whom he had chosen to constitute
his Cabinet, as follows: William H. Seward, of New York, Secretary of
State; Salmon P. Chase, of Ohio, Secretary of the Treasury; Simon
Cameron, of Pennsylvania, Secretary of War; Gideon Welles, of
Connecticut, Secretary of the Navy; Caleb B. Smith, of Indiana,
Secretary of the Interior; Edward Bates, of Missouri, Attorney General;
and Montgomery Blair, of Maryland, Postmaster General.

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