The Policy of Aggression

Editorial in the New Orleans Daily Crescent

December 14, 1860

It is a mistake to suppose that it is the mere election of Lincoln, without regard to anything else, that has driven the States of the South into their present position of resistance, and their present determination to seek that safety and security out of the Union which they have been unable to obtain within it. The election of Lincoln is merely the confirmation of a purpose which the South had hoped would be abandoned by the opponents of slavery in the North. It is a declaration that they mean to carry out their aggressive and destructive policy, weakening the institution at every point where it can be assailed either by legislation or by violence, until, in the brutal language of Charles Sumner, “it dies like a poisoned rat in its hole.” The election of Lincoln seals this purpose—pledges the party anew to it—reiterates the intention of the party to destroy slavery, if not boldly, at least by indirect and slow approaches; and, in short, is not so much an act of outrage itself as in the policy which it foreshadows, and the evil omen it brings to the South touching her future prosperity and security.

The New York Tribune, therefore, and other journals, which charge that we are like the people of South America and Mexico, who attempt to overturn the Government every time they are beaten in an election, misrepresent the true facts of the case. It is not because we have been beaten in the election that we are for resistance. But it is because self-defense, which is the first law of nature, no less than a just spirit of resentment towards a party which, in its sectional organization, is violative of the spirit of the Constitution, require that we should prepare for resistance before, by submission, the shackles will be so firmly bound upon us that we can never remove them.

That we do not misrepresent the purposes of this Republican Party in the future, let the following extract from one of its leading organs, the New York Independent, amply attest:

Let no opponent of slavery imagine that this is a time to rest from his labors. The Republican triumph, while it is an effective blow to the slavepower that has so long domineered at Washington, falls far short of the demolition of slavery. The gigantic iniquity still stands; hostile to the spirit of the Constitution and the known policy of its framers; hostile to the whole genius of our free institutions; hostile to every principle and precept of Christianity; an organized, unmitigated system of wickedness; but nevertheless organized by the laws of Southern States, and upheld, in face of the Christian sentiment of the age, by political, financial and commercial interests both at the South and at the North. While that SYSTEM stands, we cannot let it alone.

Here we have a distinct declaration that the work of the party is just begun—that this is not the time for them to “rest from their labors”—that the “demolition of slavery” is not yet accomplished, and the mission of the party is to produce that result. There can be no mistaking the language of this leading, widely-circulated and influential organ of the Abolition party. Whatever Corwin* and other so-called “conservatives” [i.e., moderate Republicans] may say, there is not the shadow of a doubt that the policy of the party will be bold and aggressive. It cannot stop where it is without falling to pieces. If it hesitates it dies. Organized upon a sentiment of hostility to slavery, and for the purpose of accomplishing its destruction, the moment it recedes from its position it loses the confidence of its supporters, and perishes forever. This is well known to its leaders, and hence the doctrine of the irrepressible conflict. This party, odious as it is in its principles, would excite the contempt even of the South if it abandoned those principles at the very moment of victory, unless they were abandoned from patriotic impulses—and this we cannot expect from an organization which illustrates its “patriotism” by openly organizing a crusade against the people, the property, the rights and the honor of one-half of the confederacy.

When, therefore, the Independent says that the party “cannot let slavery alone,” it means simply that it will not let it alone—that it does not intend to let it alone—that its object is to labor for its “demolition”—that it is a “gigantic iniquity” which must be removed from the nation. Where they cannot attack it in the States they will attack it at every other point they can reach. They will set fire to all the surrounding buildings in the hope that some spark may catch, and everything be destroyed in a general conflagration. They will undermine the pillars of the institution, and then wait quietly for the whole edifice to tumble. We know that there are many of this party who have no such purpose—who would shrink from the consequences of their own acts could they clearly foresee them. But they do not represent the spirit of the party—its animus, and its soul. The leaders have not only proclaimed their present and their ultimate objects, but they are gradually educating the people up to their own designs. Many will turn back appalled when they discover the true state of the case; but when hatred of slavery becomes, as it is now fast becoming, a part of the religion of the Northern people, we can look for no other result than perpetual war upon it, looking, in the language of the Independent, to its eventual “demolition.”

It is the consciousness of this fact, and not the mere, naked election of Lincoln to the Presidency, which has caused the South to assume her present attitude. If we were to make war upon any social institution of the North, and attempt to destroy it under the forms of law even, and the North should fail to resist, they would be justly taunted as cowards and cravens. If it were an institution possessing a money value, it would make the case even worse for them. How they can complain of the South for doing precisely what they would themselves do if our positions were reversed, is something yet to be explained—but, complain or not, the fiat has gone forth; and the South, having had fair warning that she is to be subjugated, dishonored, and robbed within the Union, has no remedy left except to place herself beyond the reach of that Union which is to be used for such unholy purposes.

* Ex-Governor and United States Senator and Representative from Ohio, Secretary of the Treasury under President Millard Fillmore, and Ambassador to Mexico under Abraham Lincoln. After Lincoln’s election but before his inauguration, Rep. Thomas Corwin proposed a constitutional amendment that would prohibit Congress from abolishing slavery where it already existed within the states. Nevertheless, as a Republican congressman and opponent of the Mexican-American War, he was hated in the South.

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