The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

Recurring to the action of the government, it may be stated that at
first a call was made for 75,000 militia; and, rapidly following
this, a proclamation was issued for closing the ports of the
insurrectionary districts by proceedings in the nature of blockade.
So far all was believed to be strictly legal. At this point the
insurrectionists announced their purpose to enter upon the practice
of privateering.

Other calls were made for volunteers to serve for three years, unless
sooner discharged, and also for large additions to the regular army
and navy. These measures, whether strictly legal or not, were
ventured upon, under what appeared to be a popular demand and a
public necessity; trusting then, as now, that Congress would readily
ratify them. It is believed that nothing has been done beyond the
constitutional competency of Congress.

Soon after the first call for militia, it was considered a duty to
authorize the commanding general in proper cases, according to his
discretion, to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus,
or, in other words, to arrest and detain, without resort to the
ordinary processes and forms of law, such individuals as he might
deem dangerous to the public safety. This authority has purposely
been exercised but very sparingly. Nevertheless, the legality and
propriety of what has been done under it are questioned, and the
attention of the country has been called to the proposition that one
who has sworn to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed”
should not himself violate them. Of course some consideration was
given to the questions of power and propriety before this matter was
acted upon. The whole of the laws which were required to be
faithfully executed were being resisted and failing of execution in
nearly one third of the States. Must they be allowed to finally fail
of execution, even had it been perfectly clear that by the use of the
means necessary to their execution some single law, made in such
extreme tenderness of the citizen’s liberty that, practically, it
relieves more of the guilty than of the innocent, should to a very
limited extent be violated? To state the question more directly, are
all the laws but one to go unexecuted, and the government itself go
to pieces lest that one be violated? Even in such a case, would not
the official oath be broken if the government should be overthrown
when it was believed that disregarding the single law would tend to
preserve it? But it was not believed that this question was
presented. It was not believed that any law was violated. The
provision of the Constitution that “the privilege of the writ of
habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when, in cases of
rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it,” is
equivalent to a provision–is a provision–that such privilege may be
suspended when, in case of rebellion or invasion, the public safety
does require it. It was decided that we have a case of rebellion,
and that the public safety does require the qualified suspension of
the privilege of the writ which was authorized to be made. Now it is
insisted that Congress, and not the executive, is vested with this
power. But the Constitution itself is silent as to which or who is
to exercise the power; and as the provision was plainly made for a
dangerous emergency, it cannot be believed the framers of the
instrument intended that in every case the danger should run its
course until Congress could be called together, the very assembling
of which might be prevented, as was intended in this case, by the

No more extended argument is now offered, as an opinion at some
length will probably be presented by the attorney-general. Whether
there shall be any legislation upon the subject, and if any, what, is
submitted entirely to the better judgment of Congress.

The forbearance of this government had been so extraordinary and so
long continued as to lead some foreign nations to shape their action
as if they supposed the early destruction of our national Union was
probable. While this, on discovery, gave the executive some concern,
he is now happy to say that the sovereignty and rights of the United
States are now everywhere practically respected by foreign powers;
and a general sympathy with the country is manifested throughout the

The reports of the Secretaries of the Treasury, War, and the Navy
will give the information in detail deemed necessary and convenient
for your deliberation and action; while the executive and all the
departments will stand ready to supply omissions, or to communicate
new facts considered important for you to know.

It is now recommended that you give the legal means for making this
contest a short and decisive one: that you place at the control of
the government for the work at least four hundred thousand men and
$400,000,000. That number of men is about one-tenth of those of
proper ages within the regions where, apparently, all are willing to
engage; and the sum is less than a twenty-third part of the money
value owned by the men who seem ready to devote the whole. A debt of
$6oo,ooo,ooo now is a less sum per head than was the debt of our
Revolution when we came out of that struggle; and the money value in
the country now bears even a greater proportion to what it was then
than does the population. Surely each man has as strong a motive now
to preserve our liberties as each had then to establish them.

A right result at this time will be worth more to the world than ten
times the men and ten times the money. The evidence reaching us from
the country leaves no doubt that the material for the work is
abundant, and that it needs only the hand of legislation to give it
legal sanction, and the hand of the executive to give it practical
shape and efficiency. One of the greatest perplexities of the
government is to avoid receiving troops faster than it can provide
for them. In a word, the people will save their government if the
government itself will do its part only indifferently well.

It might seem, at first thought, to be of little difference whether
the present movement at the South be called “secession” or
“rebellion.” The movers, however, well understand the difference. At
the beginning they knew they could never raise their treason to any
respectable magnitude by any name which implies violation of law.
They knew their people possessed as much of moral sense, as much of
devotion to law and order, and as much pride in and reverence for the
history and government of their common country as any other civilized
and patriotic people. They knew they could make no advancement
directly in the teeth of these strong and noble sentiments.
Accordingly, they commenced by an insidious debauching of the public
mind. They invented an ingenious sophism which, if conceded, was
followed by perfectly logical steps, through all the incidents, to
the complete destruction of the Union. The sophism itself is that
any State of the Union may consistently with the national
Constitution, and therefore lawfully and peacefully, withdraw from
the Union without the consent of the Union or of any other State.
The little disguise that the supposed right is to be exercised only
for just cause, themselves to be the sole judges of its justice, is
too thin to merit any notice.

With rebellion thus sugar-coated they have been drugging the public
mind of their section for more than thirty years, and until at length
they have brought many good men to a willingness to take up arms
against the government the day after some assemblage of men have
enacted the farcical pretense of taking their State out of the Union,
who could have been brought to no such thing the day before.

This sophism derives much, perhaps the whole, of its currency from
the assumption that there is some omnipotent and sacred supremacy
pertaining to a State–to each State of our Federal Union. Our
States have neither more nor less power than that reserved to them in
the Union by the Constitution–no one of them ever having been a
State out of the Union. The original ones passed into the Union even
before they cast off their British colonial dependence; and the new
ones each came into the Union directly from a condition of
dependence, excepting Texas. And even Texas in its temporary
independence was never designated a State. The new ones only took
the designation of States on coming into the Union, while that name
was first adopted for the old ones in and by the Declaration of
Independence. Therein the “United Colonies” were declared to be
“free and independent States”; but even then the object plainly was
not to declare their independence of one another or of the Union, but
directly the contrary, as their mutual pledge and their mutual action
before, at the time, and afterward, abundantly show. The express
plighting of faith by each and all of the original thirteen in the
Articles of Confederation, two years later, that the Union shall be
perpetual, is most conclusive. Having never been States either in
substance or in name outside of the Union, whence this magical
omnipotence of ” State rights,” asserting a claim of power to
lawfully destroy the Union itself? Much is said about the
“sovereignty” of the States; but the word even is not in the national
Constitution, nor, as is believed, in any of the State constitutions.
What is “sovereignty” in the political sense of the term? Would it be
far wrong to define it as “a political community without a political
superior”? Tested by this, no one of our States except Texas ever was
a sovereignty. And even Texas gave up the character on coming into
the Union; by which act she acknowledged the Constitution of the
United States, and the laws and treaties of the United States made in
pursuance of the Constitution, to be for her the supreme law of the
land. The States have their status in the Union, and they have no
other legal status. If they break from this, they can only do so
against law and by revolution. The Union, and not themselves
separately, procured their independence and their liberty. By
conquest or purchase the Union gave each of them whatever of
independence or liberty it has. The Union is older than any of the
States, and, in fact, it created them as States. Originally some
dependent colonies made the Union, and, in turn, the Union threw off
their old dependence for them, and made them States, such as they
are. Not one of them ever had a State constitution independent of
the Union. Of course, it is not forgotten that all the new States
framed their constitutions before they entered the Union
nevertheless, dependent upon and preparatory to coming into the

Unquestionably the States have the powers and rights reserved to them
in and by the national Constitution; but among these surely are not
included all conceivable powers, however mischievous or destructive,
but, at most, such only as were known in the world at the time as
governmental powers; and certainly a power to destroy the government
itself had never been known as a governmental, as a merely
administrative power. This relative matter of national power and
State rights, as a principle, is no other than the principle of
generality and locality. Whatever concerns the whole should be
confided to the whole–to the General Government; while whatever
concerns only the State should be left exclusively to the State.
This is all there is of original principle about it. Whether the
national Constitution in defining boundaries between the two has
applied the principle with exact accuracy, is not to be questioned.
We are all bound by that defining, without question.

What is now combated is the position that secession is consistent
with the Constitution–is lawful and peaceful. It is not contended
that there is any express law for it; and nothing should ever be
implied as law which leads to unjust or absurd consequences. The
nation purchased with money the countries out of which several of
these States were formed. Is it just that they shall go off without
leave and without refunding? The nation paid very large sums (in the
aggregate, I believe, nearly a hundred millions) to relieve Florida
of the aboriginal tribes. Is it just that she shall now be off
without consent or without making any return? The nation is now in
debt for money applied to the benefit of these so-called seceding
States in common with the rest. Is it just either that creditors
shall go unpaid or the remaining States pay the whole? A part of the
present national debt was contracted to pay the old debts of Texas.
Is it just that she shall leave and pay no part of this herself?

Again, if one State may secede, so may another; and when all shall
have seceded, none is left to pay the debts. Is this quite just for
creditors? Did we notify them of this sage view of ours when we
borrowed their money? If we now recognize this doctrine by allowing
the seceders to go in peace, it is difficult to see what we can do if
others choose to go or to extort terms upon which they will promise
to remain.

The seceders insist that our Constitution admits of secession. They
have assumed to make a national constitution of their own, in which
of necessity they have either discarded or retained the right of
secession as they insist it exists in ours. If they have discarded
it, they thereby admit that on principle it ought not to be in ours.
If they have retained it, by their own construction of ours, they
show that to be consistent they must secede from one another whenever
they shall find it the easiest way of settling their debts, or
effecting any other selfish or unjust object. The principle itself
is one of disintegration and upon which no government can possibly

If all the States save one should assert the power to drive that one
out of the Union, it is presumed the whole class of seceder
politicians would at once deny the power and denounce the act as the
greatest outrage upon State rights. But suppose that precisely the
same act, instead of being called “driving the one out,” should be
called “the seceding of the others from that one,” it would be
exactly what the seceders claim to do, unless, indeed, they make the
point that the one, because it is a minority, may rightfully do what
the others, because they are a majority, may not rightfully do.
These politicians are subtle and profound on the rights of
minorities. They are not partial to that power which made the
Constitution and speaks from the preamble calling itself “We, the

It may well be questioned whether there is to-day a majority of the
legally qualified voters of any State except perhaps South Carolina
in favor of disunion. There is much reason to believe that the Union
men are the majority in many, if not in every other one, of the so-
called seceded States. The contrary has not been demonstrated in any
one of them. It is ventured to affirm this even of Virginia and
Tennessee; for the result of an election held in military camps,
where the bayonets are all on one side of the question voted upon,
can scarcely be considered as demonstrating popular sentiment. At
such an election, all that large class who are at once for the Union
and against coercion would be coerced to vote against the Union.

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