Secession Era Editorials Project


New York, Tribune [Whig]

(23 February 1854)

When we consider the generous personal qualities of several of the southern Members of Congress; when we take into account their high and keen sense of personal honor, it seems difficult to imagine that they should not shrink with instinctive horror from any proposal, come from what quarter it might, to repudiate a fair, ancient and deliberate bargain, the binding force of which has been recognized and acknowledged ten thousand times over, and the entire consideration for which has already been received and enjoyed. Without appealing to southern honor or southern chivalry, it would seem to require only a very moderate portion of that ordinary and every day quality known among as simple citizens of the North as common honesty, to prevent the better part of the southern Members of Congress from either themselves setting on foot any such fraudulent scheme, or from allowing anybody else to set it on foot for them. And yet strange as it may seem to those who look only at the outside of things, it is the concurrent report of all who are familiar with the facts that out of Texas hardly a single southern Member of Congress will be found to vote against the repeal of the Missouri Restriction. Remarkable phenomenon this! Wonderful unanimity of southern Members of Congress, never exhibited except upon questions involving the interests of slave-holding, and until quite recently, not seen even upon such questions.

When did it happen, we should like to ask, that anybody proposed any injustice or supposed injustice to the South; when did it happen that anybody proposed, we do not say to violate but to evade the fulfillment to the utmost letter of any bargain, or supposed bargain with the South, especially if that bargain happened to be in favor of Slavery, that plenty of Northern Members of Congress did not leap, indignant from their seats to protest in the loudest and most pathetic terms against such iniquity? How many generous northern men submitted to silence, though the blood of agony all the while oozed drop by drop from their paralyzed tongues, to the torture of the Fugitive Slave Law; resolute all the while, like the boy of Sparta, to give no sign of what they suffered: all because they believed that the Fugitive Slave Law was nothing more than what the slave-holders might rightfully demand under the compromises of the Constitution?

An now see what return we get for all this. Not a single southern Member of Congress except those from Texas to vote against the repeal of the Missouri Compromise! And mark the reason too which they have the coolness to offer for this repudiating baseness -- which even such a man as Mr. Benton has the coolness to offer, if indeed there was not, as we suspect, a litle of irony in what he said on this subject -- a reason adding insult to injury, such as might naturally enough be expected from a Mississippi repudiator, but coming from those who profess to hold to the doctrine of paying debts and fulfilling contracts, quite unintelligible at least to cursory observers.

We could not ourselves have moved in this matter, say the southern Members of Congress; we could not in honor and justice have proposed anything of the sort; but if the North voluntarily offers us the repeal of the Missouri Compromise it won't be expected that we should refuse to take it. Perhaps not. But then we can tell what can be expected, and what will be and is expected. Among us at the North, if a man's drunken or dishonest servant coming at midnight offers to sell his master's name, to his next-door neighbor for a bottle of whisky, a set of valuable silver spoons, we do expect in such cases that before completing the purchase our neighbor will take a little time and trouble to ascertain if the person offering the spoons has any authority to sell them. To complete the bargain and take the spoons, while the owner lay fast asleep in his bed wholly unconscious of what was going on, and without any opportunity to know it, would be esteemed one of those cases in which the receiver is as bad as the thief -- nay, worse, because if there were no receiver there would be no thief.

To vote for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and to aid by his vote in carrying that repeal, is what no southern Member of Congress ever can do with honor. The very furthest that he could go with honor would be to abstain from voting at all. If a majority of the northern Members of Congress could be found base enough to vote for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise it might be said with some plausibility that the southern Members were under no obligation to come to the aid of the minority. But, for southern Members to assist by their votes in carrying the repeal against the majority of the northern Members, would be to take upon themselves the whole responsibility of the act, since but for their cooperation the measure would not have carried.

This measure is too plain to be questioned by any reasonable man; and yet in the face of all this comes the reiterated report from Washington -- All the southern Members, all at least but two or three, are counted upon as certain to vote for this repeal! Should such prove to be the case, which we will never believe, as to some of those Members from the South who call themselves Whigs till we see their names recorded in the fatal list of Yeas; but should such prove to be the case, this unanimous rascality can only be accounted for as having been produced by one or the other, or perhaps by the joint operation of two causes, neither of them particularly creditable to the parties concerned.

The relation of masters and slaves is such that, as is well enough understood, no master feels himself under any very strict obligation to deep a promise made to a slave. In fact slave-holding, from beginning to end, is a system of repudiation; and no wonder that those who begin with repudiating the Declaration of Independence and the Rights of Man should see but little binding force in their own word, no matter how solemnly pledged and ratified by no matter how many acts of Congress. Why should the white slaves of the North expect to have faith kept with them any more than with the black slaves of the South? What business have we of the North to complain that the slaveholders follow the same rule in their conduct towards us, which we encourage them to follow and sustain them in following toward their own laboring population? How absurd in us, after doing our best to help our southern brethren to banish from their hearts every suggestion of justice and honesty, to ask of them justice or honesty in their conduct toward us!

Such is the rather bitter train of reflection that may be expected to arise in many northern minds hitherto very favorably disposed toward the South, as they ponder over, that black list of Yeas for the repeal of the Missouri proviso, including all the southern votes with just northern traitors enough to make up a majority. We leave it to our judicious southern Whig friends to say whether it is wise to promote and to provoke such reflections.

There is, however, another explanation of the foreshadowed course of the southern Members of Congress, which, as it is more charitable, is also doubtless more just, though we hardly know whether our southern brethren will regard it as any more complimentary. Slave-holding is beyond question a very corrupting institution, but it can hardly yet have worked so injuriously as to have totally extinguished in the southern mind all sense of the difference between right and wrong, at least as between white men. The southern Members of Congress, at least the bulk of them, know very well the course that honor and justice demand. They know it, but they do not dare to follow it. They are not rascals -- only cowards.

Cowardice is thought a great stain at the South, yet political cowardice has of late years become nest to universal there. So fierce and ferocious has grown to be the fanaticism of slave-holding that no public man, no Member of Congress or would-be Member of Congress, no State Governor or Legislator, no Judge, even, dare to stand up against it. Any moderation on this subject, any appeal to justice or reason, is thought to evince the foulest taint of Abolitionism -- a taint of which all southern politicians are ten times as much afraid as they would be of the cholera, the yellow fever, or the plague. Here then, is the explanation of the wonderful unanimity of the southern Members of Congress upon the question of the repeal of the Missouri proviso. They see just as plainly as we do the villainy of the whole proceeding the infamous villainy of carrying that repeal by the aid of southern votes. They see it, but they do not dare act up to the promptings of their own conscience; they do not dare to conform to their own clear sense of what honor and justice demand, lest their political adversaries and rivals should raise against them the mad cry of Abolitionist!

And now for the reflections which this view of the subject will be likely to suggest to the late supporters at the North of the Compromise of 1850. Surely, they will say, in the bitterness of their hearts, things are coming to a pretty pass. The negroes of the South, including under that description a considerable number of persons of quite light complexion, and said also to have in their veins some of the blood of the "first families," are held in slavery by the law of the land. The owners of these negroes frightened to death at the idea of being suspected of Abolitionism, are little better than slaves to their own fears, under the influence of which they treat us as if we were slaves too, without spirit to resist or courage to complain.

This certainly is not a view of the social and political workings of Slavery which will tend much to reconcile any body at the North to its introduction into the broad territory of Nebraska. If the southern Members of Congress think it wise and judicious to drive the whole North, Silver Grays and all, into an invincible necessity of taking this view, they will do well to cooperate with a few poor spirited, northern traitors in repealing the Missouri Compromise; at the same time we would not advise them to rely much on any great steadfastness of these same northern traitors in standing up against that storm of northern indignation, certain, as is now very evident to be raised by so tricky and treacherous a procedure.

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