Washington (DC) National Era, "The Union," October 15, 1857

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“The Union–The Better Way,” Washington (DC) National Era, October 15, 1857, p. 166: 1-3.
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Washington National Era
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The Union–The Better Way
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Don Sailer, Dickinson College
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The following text is presented here in complete form, as true to the original written document as possible. Spelling and other typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.


We all recollect with what coolness the political leaders of the slave States calculated the value of the Union during the Presidential canvass. They informed the country that the only way to save it was, to elect Mr. Buchanan–that the election of Mr. Fremont would be the signal of dissolution–the secession of the South in that case would be inevitable and justifiable. The election of Buchanan satisfied the majority of them, but from time to time, in their political discourse, they are at pains to remind us, that only by that event was disunion prevented, and that in 1860, should the National Democracy be overthrown, the Union must go down with it. This seems to be a foregone conclusion with them–and they evidently intend that the South shall be committed to it, without much chance of retraction. Meantime, a small but influential class of politicians in the South, goes still further. It assumes that the perpetuation of the Union is an impossibility–that the election of Mr. Buchanan has only postponed the crisis of disunion, which must come, soon or late, and the sooner the better.

The Republicans attached little importance to the threatening declarations of Southern politicians, and had they even believed, would have disregarded, them. Devoted as they are to the Union, they are not to be indimidated from the exercise of rights, guarantied by the Constitution of the Union.

But, there is at the North, also, a class of Disunionists, which of late seems to have been stimulated into unwonted activity. A call has been issued, signed by a large number of persons, for a Convention to be held shortly at Cleveland, Ohio, to devise the best measures for bringing about a dissolution of the Union. The Southern politician will rail them as traitors, but we advise him to take first the beam out of his own eye: he is the last man to charge upon others disloyalty to Union, as a crime. Nor let the Buchanan Democracy of the North expend upon its disaffected neighbors the whole of its patriotic indignation. Has it forgotten the Disunion movements of its Southern allies last fall? Has it forgotten the Convention of Southern Governors, summoned last fall to meet at Raleigh, to concert the necessary measures of dissolution, should Fremont be elected–summoned under the auspices of Henry A. Wise, who is already named as a suitable National Democratic candidate for the Presidency in 1860? Cleanse your own household, clear your own skirts of complicity with Treason, before you grow indignant at Garrison’s want of patriotism.

We must confess our regret at seeing, upon the call referred to, some names hitherto associated with wise and practical movements. We do not idolize the Union, nor would we descend to the low trickery of glorifying it, for the sake of propitiating popular favor. The demagogue talks of the Union as if it were the greatest gift of God–representing it as an end, not a means, and denying that any circumstances may transpire which shall render its continuance undesirable. There is no sense in this. We are attached to the Union, for reasons–regarding it as the means to certain great ends: and so long as on the whole it shall, more than any other means, subserve these ends, we must stand among its steadfast supporters. If its terms necessarily imposed duties inconsistent with moral obligation, there could be no doubt as to the proper course of conduct: A positive obligation would arise, to seek to amend its character and condition, so as to relieve it from its obnoxious features, and, failing in that, to labor for its dissolution. But such is not our belief.

What are the great ends of the Union?

1. Security against foreign aggression and independence of foreign intrigue. Were this country divided into petty principalities, or several larger republics, their jealousies and rivalries would open a new field for European intrigue, impair their independence, and render them constantly liable to the impertinent and mischievous interference of the great Powers of the Old World. We see this attempted in the South American States; and that it is not carried on, on a larger scale, is owing chiefly to the commanding position taken by the United States.

2. Three other great ends of the Union were, the restoration of credit, the discharge of a heavy national debt, and the establishment of commerce–and they have been accomplished.

3. Another end was, the development and perpetuation of the Democratic principle–the right of the People to govern themselves. Were there no Union, there would be several independent sovereignties–then, natural and unavoidable conflicts, involving the necessity of large armies and strong Governments, from which ultimately would result either a most imperfect development, or the subversion of the Democratic principle. But the Union, allowing for the painful exceptions produced by Slavery, has constantly and powerfully favored the growth and extension of this principle.

4. Another end was Peace. War is almost as heavy a curse as Slavery. War expenses are as wasteful as the unthrift and idleness of Slavery; war deeds and preparations as demoralizing as the influences of Slavery. How can the masses of Europe be free, comfortable, progressive, with mammoth armies trampling them in the dust, and hundreds of millions ground out of them, to pay for the support of uniformed idlers? Is the American temperament so meek, so forbearing, so slow to take offence, that half a dozen independent republics in this country could move side by side, tranquilly, trustingly, forbearingly, with no forts, no munitions of war, no means of defense or aggression? The destruction of the Union would be the commencement of a new era–the era of war, of standing armies and strong governments–of centralism, corruption, and tyranny. The very outline and face of our country seems to make union a necessity. We have no great natural boundaries, separating different sections. We all flow into one. Our vast extent of country, with the exception of the Pacific coast, is almost a plain, so that artificial barriers, composed of the bodies of men paid for shooting and being shot at, would have to take the place of natural boundaries. Dissolution, too, in itself, is a revolutionary measure: it could not fail to awaken the profoundest feelings of animosity among those who had hitherto been friends–and friendship converted into hate, is the most deadly of all forms of hatred.

The Union, then, subserves the great cause of Peace. It has preserved peace between sovereign States for more than half a century; perpetuated peace over a surface of country as large as Europe, which meantime has been convulsed by wars without number; by the force of this glorious example has given countenance and support to the cause of Peace throughout Christendom; and it bids fair to maintain peace between all the States that may yet become members of the Confederacy on this North American continent. And this it has done, despite the malignant influences of Slavery, that monstrous anomaly in our institutions, which is perpetually sowing dragons’ teeth, and provoking ill feeling between different sections.

5. Another end arrived at was, Personal Security. So far as twenty-five millions of people are concerned, this has been accomplished, although here again are exceptions, created by Slavery. Personal Security in many of the slave States is not to be enjoyed, except on terms revolting to an Anti-Slavery man. But in all the free States, and in some of the slave, it is effectually guarantied, not so much by the direct act of the Union, as through its indirect influence. Commanding peace abroad, and harmony at home, it relieves the States individually from stringent Governments, standing armies, and war expenses–secures to them almost unlimited liberty–and the result is, no man feels the most distant apprehension of governmental tyranny, exaction, or intermeddling. There is a deep, pervading sense of Personal Security, without which there can be little solid Progress.

6. Another and great benefit secured by the Union is, the establishment of Free Trade, so far as its boundaries extend. Had this country been cut up into Northern, Western, and Southern Confederacies, or into smaller sections, each would have impaired its energies, and retarded its progress, by what is called the system of Protection–acting upon the absurd principle that it is important to raise or manufacture at home everything that it is necessary or desirable to use. The Union has prevented this folly. It has taken off every fetter from the industrial energies of the States, in their relations to each other, and every new addition to it is an extension of the Principle of Free Trade.

Such are some of the vast benefits conferred by the American Union–blessings, to which we have so long been accustomed, that we have ceased to appreciate them, or to attribute them to their true source.

Now, in regard to Slavery, do we not err, when we charge its extension and power upon the Union? The Union did not create, but found it existing. It did not provide for its encouragement, but discouragement. Nothing in its terms or conditions was designed to favor its continuance, but there was much intended to promote the extension of Liberty. That the just expectations of its founders have been partially disappointed, in the growth of Slavery, we know; but the Union is not at fault. Slavery grew because cotton became profitable, and put slave labor at a premium, but this would have taken place had no Union been formed, and we should have witnessed a similar extension of slave empire in the Southwest.

But may we not credit the Union with the freedom of the great Northwestern Territory, with the free institutions which now prevail in the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin? It was to the Confederation that Virginia resigned her claim to the Northwestern Territory: the Ordinance of 1787, consecrating it to Freedom, became a part of the compact of Union; and it is admitted that by that Ordinance the Territory was saved from Slavery. What would have been its fate, had not Union been formed?

The cause of Freedom and Free Institutions owes much to the Union: that it does not owe more, is the fault, not of the Union, but of the People, especially those of the free States. They have always been numerous enough to prevent the extension of Slavery. The workings of the Union and Constitution in favor of Liberty have been aided by the operation of natural laws, and, under their joint influences, the free States have been constantly gaining, until to-day they are stronger relatively than ever before. Had their People been fully enlightened upon the nature of Slavery, and acted intelligently and steadily in carrying out the real spirit of the Constitution and the great aims of the founders of the Union, there would be no need to-day to denounce the usurpations of the Slave Power.

Liberty has suffered and is suffering, “in the house of her friends”–at the hands of the People of the free States. It is not because the Slaveholders have a preponderance of political power that the rights and interests of the free States are in jeopardy–but because the citizens of these States have to a great extent been servile or indifferent to Slaveholding pretensions. Nor will their rights or interests be endangered hereafter, except from this cause. They now have, and will hereafter have, superior political power: let them use it wisely, and the Union will become what it was intended it should be, an unmixed blessing.

The free States have twice as much wealth as the slave States–they have the commerce and manufactures–they have twice the amount of white population–they boast of their superiority in education and enterprise–into them pours the full tide of foreign immigration–they have a majority of two in the Senate, and fifty-four in the House of Representatives, soon to be increased by the Senators and Representatives from Minnesota, just organized as a State–they have at last carried the day in Kansas–command Nebraska–are gradually preparing Oregon and Washington for States. Such is their power, present and prospective, and where are the slave States? What new States have they in preparation, to balance those inevitable gains to Freedom? And yet, at such a moment, the free States are called upon to dissolve the Union, for the purpose of protecting themselves from the aggressions of Slavery! They will do no such thing. The staff of accomplishment is in their hands, and they will use it. Their just weight in the Federal Councils will yet be felt. They will put an end to the illegitimate preponderance of the Slave Power, and make the Federal Government conform to the will of the majority, in obedience to the Constitution. If disunion is to be attempted, let the attempt be made in another quarter. Let the onus of secession rest upon the slave States. We, non-slaveholders, although for so many years governed by the Slave Power –proscribed and endamaged in various ways–have been loyal to the Constitution and Union. When we obtain the reins of Government, and the Free Power is in the ascendant, it will be for Slaveholders to follow our example, and maintain their loyalty to the Constitution, or take the position of defiance and rebellion.

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