The Ballot-Box and the Bayonet.
The Telegraph, yesterday afternoon, brought us the extraordinary but not altogether inexplicable intelligence that the Governor of Maryland had put the capital city of that State under martial law, and had ordered a force of seven thousand men to hold themselves in readiness to “preserve the peace on Wednesday next, the day of the general election.” It is understood that the Executive of Maryland took this step at the earnest request of many respectable citizens of Baltimore, fully convinced that nothing less than the armed interposition of the Government could avert the imminent danger of a series of outrageous conflicts at the polls of the city and the possible consequent disorganization, for a time, of all social order in the chief city of the Southern States.
For some time past the journals of Baltimore have teemed with accounts of violent assaults, committed with impunity, upon quiet citizens in the broad light of day, with stories of fierce affrays fought out to the end by rival bodies of disciplined ruffians, without let or hindrance from the Municipal Police; with murders and with rumors of murder. And the country has not yet forgotten the outrage upon the rights of suffrage at the Capital of the nation, which was planned and attempted by a band of “sympathizers” from Baltimore, and only prevented by the energy of the Federal authorities in the direct employment of the muskets of the Marine Corps. To say, then, that the action of the Governor of Maryland at this juncture has taken the public entirely by surprise, would not be strictly correct. And we hardly know in what words to express the bitterness and poignancy of the feelings which must stir the heart of every true patriot and of every sincere Republican, under the consciousness that we have reached a point at which the proclamation by a great officer of State, of the impotence of the public conscience to the preservation of the public order in the fourth city of the Union, must be accepted as a political and social necessity.
Whatever the issue of the measure may be–whether peace shall be maintained in the streets of Baltimore by the mere array of military force, or compelled at the price of battle and of bloodshed–the fearful fact cannot be altered or drained of its tremendous significance, that, whatever justly or unjustly, the respectable citizens of Baltimore and the administration of the State to which they belong, have been alarmed into a confession before the world of the inadequacy of the popular will to restrain the excess of criminal and reckless men in their community. If this step has been taken rashly or on insufficient grounds, the heavy responsibility rests upon the heads of those who advised it, of bringing our free institutions to public shame throughout the world. If, on the other hand, it has been taken gravely, calmly and of necessity, then we may well throw aside all concern about the effect which it is likely to produce upon our national reputation, for the far more pressing and solemn consideration of the light which it throws upon certain phases of our national character and certain tendencies of our national future. For Baltimore is not alone among her sister cities afflicted with these elements of individual lawlessness and municipal imbecility, out of which this crisis in her affairs has been developed.
The thing which has been in one place may well be in another, if the same causes are allowed to operate with an equal license in both. And if Baltimore draws the bayonet today to protect the ballot-box, she but confesses in an appeal of arms the same shameful truth which New-Orleans, at no distant yesterday, revealed in the triumphs of Judge Lynch, and which New-York will assuredly be summoned to face at some near to-morrow.
Not a year has elapsed since the Attorney-General of Louisiana, in a report on the “State of Crime in New-Orleans,” after presenting a frightful picture of the practical carnival of murder which had been kept up in that city for months, frankly owned that nothing but a “Committee of Vigilance” could be relied upon to protect the lives and the property of the people. These are his words:
“It is the universal sentiment of our country that when Government is a mere oppression, revolution becomes a right. So, also, it is said, as we relinquish the right of self-protection for a consideration promised by the law, that the law will protect us, and the law fails to protect us, then the same reason that justifies revolution sanctions what is equivalent to revolution–summary justice on the criminals whom the law is unable to reach, or who, probably, represent the law.”
This passage is quoted at length by Mr. STIRLING in his recent work on this country, and he adds, as a liberal and friendly observer of American institutions: “Can all this be real? is this really a city of the Model Republic a fair example of the ‘first great experiment of self-government?’ May not the Republicanism of Louisiana be described as a despotism of the mob tempered by lynch-law halters?”
What answers are we not to return to such questions? For it is not the “Republicanism of Louisiana” alone that is put by them upon its trial. The Republicanism of Maryland and of New-York as well, the Republicanism of the nation is involved in the issue. It will not do to say that the great cities of the Republic are gangrened by infusions of a foreign virus, or that the Democratic virtue which can save the State warms and glows in the uncontaminated veins of the country, or the prairies of the West and on the farms of the East. The influence of the great centers of population must sooner or later mould the character, as it always tends to control the policy, of the nation. And who are the Americans of the great cities? Are they not bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of their rustic fellow-citizens? The country is forever feeding the cities with new lives. And if there be not some speedy demonstration made by whatever of capacity and of character is to be found in our capitals–if the honor, the honesty and the Republican intelligence of our great City populations do not speedily put themselves forth to arrest the demoralization and disintegration of all municipal life in this nation, we may rely upon it that it will not be Baltimore or in Louisville, in New-York or in New-Orleans alone, that the ballot-box, which we cherish as the Palladium of our liberties, must begin to fade into a mockery under the fatal protection of the bayonet.
Thomas Watkins Ligon (1810-1881) – Ligon served as Governor of Maryland from 1854 to 1858. Ligon was a member of the Democratic party.