New York Times, "Secession is Anarchy," December 25, 1860

    Source citation
    "Secession is Anarchy," New York Times, December 25, 1860, p. 4.
    Newspaper: Publication
    New York Times
    Newspaper: Headline
    Secession is Anarchy.
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    Date Certainty
    Stephen Acker
    Transcription date
    The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

    Secession is Anarchy.

    We are now trying the strength of our Government in its weakest point –the Federal Executive. All the Republics of North and South America, based on the model of our own, have, for want of an efficient central power to command respect and enforce obedience, sunk into anarchy, and become a prey to civil wars with no prospect of termination but the extinction of the race. They commenced their career by the refusal of the States to respect and obey the organic law for the whole country. One step was followed by another till, at last, all ties of social organization has become dissolved. The person is no longer protected. Property is seized with impunity by the strongest. Even those who by lucky accident happen to wield the little central power remaining, and who should vindicate and maintain the laws, subsist upon spoliation and plunder. Neither individuals nor communities can be relied on for the discharge of any duty. The sense of common danger or of present or prospective advantage is no longer a motive to action. In fine, in our sister Republics, society seems to be reduced to its chaotic state, without the power of reconstruction, save under the hand of a skillful and energetic despot, who can make his own will the law and rule for the people.

    The United States are apparently entering upon a similar career. A State, upon a mere fiction, or at best upon a divergence in opinion, from the Central Government, has professedly dissolved the ties that bound her to it, and with a levity more excessive than that displayed by the States of Mexico, in their eagerness for change, treats the most solemn legal obligations that can be assumed by a people as matters of the purest indifference. The central power is flouted and contemned. To render the parallel the more perfect, our central Executive looks supinely on, unmoved or incapable; or what seems more probable, is in league with the traitors. A blow is struck at social organization and government, which, unless arrested, will speedily place the United States in the same category with Mexico and Central America. The ties that bind the States together will first be severed, and respect for the law and order correspondingly weakened. Obligations to municipal laws will next be repudiated by a refusal on the part of the people to obey them. Next will follow the obligation between individuals, till neither persons nor property are longer respected, and forms of government become a mockery, because they can neither command respect nor enforce obedience.

    If there were any sentiment of nationality in the present secession movement there would be some room to hope that this would finally organize an orderly and stable Government. But not a trace of such sentiment is discernible, nor anything that distinguishes the action South Carolina from the sheerest anarchy, in which self-will and passion are stronger than law. There may be a common hostility in the Southern States towards the North, but this will be no element of union among themselves. In the case of South Carolina, no motive other than that of ungovernable self-will, or immoderate egotism can be detected. To applications for delay, for cooperation, from sister States, she returns nothing but insolent and snappish replies. She is evidently bent upon a piece of gratuitous mischief, and covets the glory of alone applying the torch that is to set the country in flames. Were she impelled by a sense of danger, she would, with her contemptible paucity of numbers, crave cooperation and assistance. Were she inspired by an instinct which is the presage of future greatness, there would then be some logical relations between her ideas and her power. No people that have a great future ever provoke by their vaporing and extravagance, derision and contempt. South Carolina has not displayed a single quality upon which a State or a well-ordered Government can rest. If success is to follow this new movement, then we are under a new dispensation, and the book of experience and history may as well be closed.

    The subject which unites the South against the North will be the very one that renders the union among themselves impossible. South Carolina and Virginia have more and sharper points of difference than either of these have with the Free States. There is no rivalry or competition between the latter and the former in respect to their industry or products. But Virginia and South Carolina are the very antipodes on a point which would, in an hour, dissolve any compact entered into between them, no matter how strongly expressed—that of Slavery. The renewal of the Slave-trade lies at the foundation of the secession movement of the former. Virginia can entertain no more slaves. She yearly exports her increase, which is her most valuable product. The number of slaves in that State is about 475,000. The ratio of increase about 33 per cent. The number annually exported, consequently, is about 14,000. At $500 per head, their value exceeds $7,000,000. Open the Slave-trade, and the price of Virginia negroes now selling at $1,000 per head, would be reduced to the cost of the imported article. Virginia would set fir to her Capitol as soon as open this trade. It is against her interest to do so, consequently against her moral sense. North Carolina and Kentucky are in a similar condition, and would act in view of the same motives.

    Take South Carolina and Louisiana. There are no two states in the Union so thoroughly isolated from each other, or that have interests so little in common. There is no commerce between the two, and very little personal intercourse. One can hardly imagine a subject on which they would act together outside the opening of the slave-trade. The moment a difference of opinion arose, South Carolina would take her hat and break up, or walk out of, a Southern Confederacy with as little compunction as she broke up the Charleston Convention, and as she is now undertaking to break up the Government of the United States. Hereafter she, will acknowledge no obligations that will conflict with her whims or caprice. Her present movement is like the first step in vice—this taken, all others follow in regular gradation, till every moral or legal tie is dissolved—individual selfishness, cruelty and passion reign supreme.

    Already is the South tasting the bitter fruits of social and legal disorganization. It is notorious that the secession movement is now controlled by the poor whites, who have nothing to lose, or by mobs of Vigilance Committees, who embrace the worst desperados in the community, and who are already like the cow-boys of the Revolution, levying blackmail on all who have anything to be plundered. The planters would gladly stay the tempest, but their power has departed. Between a mob of whites on the one hand and slaves on the other, their position is a most hazardous and dangerous one. They may find out too late that the wrecking of all legal ties may, in the end, be turned to their own destruction.

    Such is the goal to which secession leads. It is anarchy, in whatever light viewed. Our only escape and salvation is the rigid enforcement of the laws. We know that obedience to them has made us, as a nation, what we are. Without such obedience there can be no government, and without government no society, nor wealth, nor progress, but violence, bloodshed, and rapine. A successful example like that proposed by South Carolina might prove infectious, and travel northward as well as southward. We have here among us not a few apologists and advocates of secession. The great question for us to decide is, whether this sentiment shall spread till Mexico is repeated on our own soil; whether law, or the base passions of the human heart, are to be the guide of our conduct. It is one which involves not only our political, but social existence.

    If there be grievances, there is a proper tribunal to which to apply for redress. The refusal to appear before it admits that they would be redressed, or that no good cause of complaint exists. Our Government to do justice must execute the laws. By refusing to do so it commits the gravest of crimes, because it brings peril into the lives and property of each individual. Our only safety is here. The true way to deal with an obnoxious law is to enforce it. But, while on the statute book, it must be the rule of conduct for States as well as individuals.

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