"Union and Liberty."
Many persons have a sort of religious faith that the American Union and American
Liberty are one and the same thing; at least, so nearly so, that, should the
former be ruptured, the latter would die. The sentiment is a favorite one with
our northern statesmen, and perhaps no phrase or scintillation of rapturous
eloquence which sprang from Webster's lips has given him more reputation than
his celebrated "Union and Liberty--one and inseparable, now and forever."
It is the "harp of a thousand strings" which our politicians play
on, and no matter whether they gracefully bring out luscious harmony by their
skillful manipulation of all the strings, or boorishly knock with a sled-stake
on a single sub-base, the instrument is so well known that every sound from
it starts an answering throb in each heart. Recently one of the lecturers before
the Library Association in this village, called this instrument into service,
and sang to it a delightful song of glowing eloquence of words and thoughts.
It was a performance worthy of a great subject, and the subject was truly a
great one. Undoubtedly the preservation of the Union is of great importance
in many respects, and should not be foolishly hazarded for trifling considerations
and it is well enough for orators and speechmakers in their efforts to give
rotundity to their eloquence, to so link the Union with Liberty as to represent
the loss of the one the loss of the other also. But after all, this is only
a "glittering generality"-- a bit of glass upon the saddle of the
ring to deceive the careless into the belief that a diamond presides there.
It is not in human ken to foretell all the results of a dissolution of this
Union; but it is quite clear that there is no natural necessity that Massachusetts
should sink into a despotism because South Carolina should see fit to take charge
of her own slaves instead of compelling us to guard them, to see that they do
not wander from her cotton fields, and force them back when they, in their incipient
dreams of astronomy, set chase after the north star to see whether it is a spark
stuck upon the under side of the sky or a gimlet hole "to let the glory
through." We fully believe that a release from the ennobling functions
of slave-catcher might be endured by all the Free States without the stringent
rule of king or dictator. We cannot conceive why the letting go of the chains
which bind other men in interminable bondage should subject us to like bondage.
It might be that the slave states, left to watch the peregrinetic bipeds which
they employ to raise their cotton and tobacco, being left without "foreign
aid" from the Free States, would find a necessity for a more vigorous and
prompter form of government than that of a republic, and hence it would not
be a very great wonder if they should establish a government having the force
if not the form of a monarchy, or a despotism. It is actually such now. Nothing
better than Austrian liberty prevails there now--not even as good, for a man
is treated less barbarously in Austria for the expression of a liberal sentiment
than he is in our slave states. They have the germ of despotism there now, and
it would be no wonderful transmutation if the nut itself should soon appear,
if they should be left to take sole care of themselves.
But suppose they should withdraw from the Union and try to do business on their
own responsibility, and should become a despotism. Is that any reason why the
North should be simple enough to do the same? Not at all. The people of the
Free States have been not only educated, but practised, in the principles of
freedom. These principles are not theory, they are every day life with them.
Instead of having those principles so blunted by a severance from slavery that
we should plunge into a despotism, they have already been blunted by connection
with it. Let these states be disconnected with slavery, and we should witness
a purer spirit of liberty among the people,--one which would care for the interests
of all and not suffer the hundredth part of the population to rule with iron
rod the ninety-nine hundredths. Put slavery and freedom together, and the result
must be a dilution of the latter from its natural strength, just as adding water
to wine will dilute the wine. It is not mere dilution either, but nearer what
wine diluted with strychnine water would be. Now to separate freedom from such
contaminations would not kill it, surely. It would rather fit it to shine more
resplendently. And we have no doubt that, should the South secede, Liberty would
thrive at least as vigorously as ever in the states unpolluted by slavery. There
is no reason why it should not. These states now secure what we have of freedom;
and if relieved of the charge of keeping some show of freedom in the slave states
they would have at least as much consideration and care to bestow on themselves
as they now do; and they would exhibit the spectacle of a nation truly free,
instead of one only nominally so. The oppressed in other nations would not shriek
in sorrow at the setting of the sun of liberty, for it would not set. The same
advantages would remain for them, and whoever should come from despot-ridden
Europe, would find at least quite as much of human liberty here as he does now.
But suppose the Union to be preserved,--is it not possible that the government
may become despotic and oppressive? We can conceive that it might, and that
our people might be as fettered as any in Europe. No dissolution is necessary
for this, but simply a corruption of the spirit of the people, and an enterprising
man shall be a usurper. It is not in Union , it is in the spirit of the people,
that liberty finds support. A pro-slavery spirit pervading a people is not the
best safeguard of freedom. And what if the spirit, which has lately become so
wide-spread and rampant, should grow till it has actually converted us into
a despotism? Where then is your "free nation" for the oppressed of
other nations to point to as a beacon, and an evil omen to their oppressors?
Will there not then be a "setting of the sun of liberty," and "a
black pall of expired and expiring hopes" settling down to the nations?
We pen not these observations as an attack on the Union. We are no disunionists.
Undoubtedly the Union has advantages great enough to render its continuance
desirable, and therefore we uphold it. But is has seemed to us that some of
our patriotic orators misjudge as to what forms the basis of liberty, and we
desire merely to show the absurdity of their position. They say it is the Union
we say it is the spirit of the people, and that, Union or no Union, a people
with a free spirit will have a free government ; while a people without it,
will be oppressed, and just as much oppressed in the Union as out of it. Let
the people be fired with the spirit of true freedom, and we will risk them for
a free government whether they have South Carolina fettered to their ankles
or not. Such a spirit we believe pervades the general heart of the people of
the Free states and they will be a free people in spite of any dissolution but
that of the world itself.