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THE RIGHT OF SECESSION.
PERHAPS there are still persons in this country who are under the impression that the cause of the war which is at present raging in America is the conscientious desire of the majority of the inhabitants of the United States to free their country from the stain of slavery; that the minority, alarmed lest their power of exercising wanton tyranny over the negroes should be taken away from them, have most unjustifiably rebelled ; and that the Federal Government, being naturally indignant at their attempt at rebellion, has exercised the power which it possesses under the Constitution to compel the slaveholders to return to their allegiance, in order that they may be forced to give up their infamous right of property in
human flesh.* Possibly, also, those who entertain these opinions may also believe that Congress has in America the same power that Parliament has with us; and that the States stand to the Central Government in the relation that our counties do.
These views have been contradicted over and over again. But still they may have some weight with those who may perhaps take a superficial interest in the subject, without caring to go at all deeper into it.
Even in the case of such people, however, it seems hardly fair that they should sympathise with the North, as a matter of feeling, because slavery is allowed in the Confederacy. If Prussia were to
* This hypothesis, which I put as a possibility, has just been confirmed by a statment made on July 28 in the House of Commons by the member for Leicester, that “this was simply a question of the determined and continuous will of the North to put down slavery.” He gives, at the same time, a very good measure of his temper and his knowledge, by going on to make the testy but irrelevant remark that a former speaker seemed to take his facts from Mr Spens (I suppose he meant Spence), and his principles from "
Manhattan.” If Mr Lindsay does so, he must have a strange idea of the connection between principles and facts. He may or may not take his facts from Mr Spence, though it is difficult to say upon what, as far as the debate was concerned, Mr Taylor founded the assertion that he "seemed” to do so. But how
upon Mr Spence's facts he can found “Manhattan's” principles is left to the imagination. It might as well be said of a zealous Presbyterian that he took his facts from Dr Cumming and his principles from Dr Newman. Probably the orator never troubled himself to inquire what “Manhattan’s” principles were.
make an unjust attack upon Belgium, I doubt whether the most fiery spouter at Exeter Hall would claim our sympathy for her on the ground that the war was waged by Protestants against Papists. And it is not very long since the universal clamour of the country forced the unwilling Government to undertake that perhaps somewhat unnecessary crusade against Russia, on behalf of a people, who are not only slave-owners, and slave-owners in an aggravated form, but also Mohammedans, polygamists, and barbarians. It was not till after the war was over that we awoke to the conclusion, that their overthrow, however it might affect the balance of power, would be an undoubted blessing to those millions of people whom their rule now keeps in a very abject state of degradation.
I do not think that the question between South and North is one that ought to be decided on sentimental grounds. I do not know that the former need object very much if it was. The fault with which she is charged is this : that her States have inherited, through no fault of theirs, a bad institution, which was bestowed upon them by ourselves, and, in truth (this is kept out of sight as much as possible), forced down their throats, not only without consulting them, but also in the teeth of their most vehement protestations. Viewed in this light, surely she is more deserving of pity than of condemnation, at least from us. And even taking that fault at its worst, and not allowing of any mitigating circumstances, surely it is not the only crime in existence. If the South is guilty of that one, the North has been guilty of crimes and villanies enough, even on this very negro question, to make our sympathy at least neutral, and deprive her of any right to share in it. And unless we are prepared to maintain that the fact of having succeeded to the inheritance of slavery is enough to deprive those who have so inherited of all claim to be considered in the light of human beings, is there no sentiment to be evoked on behalf of a people who, for four years, have been making a struggle for their independence, such as, perhaps, has no parallel in history?
But, as I said, I do not think the decision of the question ought to be allowed to rest on sentimental grounds. If the Southerners have a right to withdraw from the Union, we ought to wish them success, even if the “ peculiar institution” were as black as it is sometimes painted. And whether they have that right, depends on the answer that may be given to these three questions. If upon any one of them an affirmative is returned, cadit quæstio.
1. Have nations any right to change their forms of government ?