Secession Era Editorials Project

Rights of Minorities

Charleston, South Carolina, Mercury [Democratic]

(27 May 1854)

The recent struggle in the House of Representatives over the Nebraska bill, will be memorable, not only for the pertinacity with which the minority resisted its passage, but also for the extraordinary measures to which the majority resorted at the last, to secure their triumph. The amendment offered by Mr. STEPHENS in Committee of the Whole, to strike out the enacting clause of the bill, cut off all other amendments, deprived the bill of its vitality, and compelled the Committee to rise and report the bill thus amended to the House. The question then came up in the House upon the adoption of this report. By previous understanding the very majority who had so amended the bill in committee, now voted for the rejection of the report. The effect of this move, then was, to remove the bill from committee where amendments without limit could impede its passage, and bring it before the House, where the call for the previous question, to the exclusion of all amendments, would force it at once to a direct vote. The tactics were most adroit, and as the result showed entirely successful. Thus after a tedious parliamentary campaign, which left the question still to be decided by patience and physical endurance, the victory is won by a simple manoeuvre, as unlooked for as it is unusual, the resort to it, is an era in the parliamentary history of the country. It has closed the door henceforth to the successful resistance on the part of minorities, to measures which they deem unconstitutional and oppressive. And the effect of a victory thus won will be to make majorities more intolerant of opposition, and regardless of the claims and arguments of the weaker side. We do not speak of this movement in reference to the Nebraska bill. We look at it as a question deeply effecting the future history of the country, and as such it is worthy of note.

As Mr. CALHOUN observed, governments were formed to protect minorities -- majorities can take care of themselves. The rules of the House of Representatives constitute a part of the system. The restrictions imposed by them upon hasty or oppressive legislation, by placing in the hands of the minority, the power to check and defeat it, are among its wisest provisions. They have ever been regarded in England and in this country as necessary to justice and liberty.

We think the late move in the House of Representatives, by which the Nebraska bill was carried, subversive of this system and these restrictions. The precedent is established, and majorities in the future need only follow it to perpetuate acts of the grossest injustice. Where now is there any parliamentary protection for minorities? This new system of tactics violates it utterly, and by a single blow deprives them of that power, which, although it may at times be the rallying point of faction, yet, in the light of all history, is the last strong refuge of justice and freedom. In the annihilation, therefore, of the power of minorities, in the intolerant spirit which hereafter will actuate majorities, and the consequent wrongful legislation to which they may lead in all these aspects, we regard the precedent established, as bad and dangerous. It is a fearful stride to that fatal evil which ever impends Democratic institutions; when minorities, their protests, appeals and rights, are unheeded in the remorseless tread of majorities.

There are some now who congratulate themselves and the country upon the success of Mr. STEPHENS'S tactics, who will yet regret and decry their application. They will yet feel the value of the rights of minorities, when they belong to the weaker side themselves, and will bitterly remember that they first administered to others, the poisoned chalice which even-handed justice commends to their own lips. The whole country, and particularly the South, will be made to feel at what cost the passage of the Nebraska Bill was bought.

Whatever were the merits of the Bill, whatever of wisdom or of justice which may be claimed for it, we place them far below the perpetuity and recognition of those rights which belong to the few against the many.

Practically, if this precedent is to be followed, the Committee of the Whole is a superfluous thing, and should be abolished.

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