Secession Era Editorials Project

AGITATION OF THE SLAVERY QUESTION.

Richmond, Virginia, Enquirer [Democratic]

(17 March 1857)

Every conservative lover of law and order, every supporter of the Constitution and advocate of the Union, every American mind and heart, not false to the faith of the founders of freedom, lost to all reverence for justice and truth, or callous to the cause of civil and religious liberty, thoughout Christendom, must have long ago become surfeited with the incessant agitation of the slavery question.

For more than fifty years the question of slavery has been more or less a subject of discord and contention; and, more recently, in some shape or other, it has been continually coming up in the councils of the nation, in the State Legislatures of the non-slaveholding States, before the people of the North, as an issue in elections, local and federal, and before the people of the South as an offset to its agitation at the North, to be considered with reference to its vindication as one of the essential elements of our society, its maintenance as an institution for the public good, and the protection of our rights, originating in it and under it, as the great God-given guaranty of the freedom of the white man through the thralldom of the black -- the accomplishment of the destiny of the African and Anglo-Saxon races by an observance and enforcement of the relations between them designed and decreed by divinity. From first to last, from the ordinance of 1787 to the adoption of the Missouri Compromise from 1820 to 1857, the agitation of this question has been growing greater and fiercer and wilder; widening its circle with each succeeding year, and increasing its virulence and vehemence with every new event and incident that have arisen, upon which it could possibly be brought to bear, until the Union shudders under its shocks, and patriots of all parties gaze aghast at its reckless and ruinous revels in the halls of Congress, in the State Legislatures and in every quarter and corner of the North. That the country is corrupted, that legislation, in momentous matters of national interest, is not only impeded, but perverted and prostituted, that our institutions as a Republican people are immediately and imminently endangered by the insane, suicidal agitation of this absorbing subject, is painfully palpable to every man, woman, and child in the nation. But it is idle on the part of the Southern people to talk or think of putting an end to it now. The dogs of war have been let loose too long to be driven back to the kennel in a day, or a month, or a year. The waters are rushing over the precipice too wildly to hush the thunders of the cataract in an hour; and, however earnestly we may desire it, however anxiously we may hope, however fervently we may pray for it, there is no human hand that can turn back, at once, the torrent tide of abolitionism now so rapidly rising around us, threatening to tear the ship of State from her moorings, and dash her to pieces where the surf surges high, from the confluent waters at Mason & Dixon's line.

It is a waste of words to talk about it, and it would be a waste of time to attempt it.

Subsequent to the election of Mr. Buchanan, and previous to the recent decision of the Supreme Court, there seemed to be something like a bow of promise in the political sky. The angry waters raved less loudly, the clouds looked lighter, and sunshine seemed to be smiling the shadows away. Abolitionism had been baffled and beaten in a desperate assault upon the citadel defending the Constitution and the Union, the sovereignty of the States and the rights of the South; and there was high hope that its most furious Counsel might be its last, except in feeble bands, the scattered remnant of a routed host. But, since then, there is every evidence of an organization contemplated, and it may be begun, upon a broader basis than ever, for the purpose of placing the sceptre in the hands of the enemies of slavery in 1860.

The election of the Judges of the Supreme Court by the people, is henceforth to be one of the aims of the Abolitionists, for acquiring the means of having the Constitution construed according to their own fanatical ideas of law. If they accomplish that end, the strongest bulwark of the South will have been swept away, the last bond of union will have been broken. But, before they can achieve that dark design, the halls of Congress will echo other sounds than the voices of members.

Agitation in politics as in everything else, either in the physical or moral world, is the result of a conflict between right and wrong -- an opposition of natural to artifical law; a resistance of reason, justice and truth, to prejudice or passion, iniquity or falsehood. And it will never end until the obstruction is removed. Heap up rocks in the river and the waters will foam and fret against them, for a thousand years, or until the rocks are removed and the river rolls on its accustomed course according to the laws of nature. Train a child to believe that there is no God, and until reason assumes a supremacy over the obstacle in its way, there will be fear and doubt -- an agitation in the mind, arising from the conflict of education with instinct. And so with the slavery question; as long as abolitionism is extant, as long as the laws of the land are opposed, and impeded by disloyalty and treason, as long as the rights of the South are dodged and resisted by the North, so long must there be agitation, incessant, increased and increasing agitation on the slavery question. Every patriot in the nation must deplore it deeply; but we should depreciate the cause rather than the effect -- abolitionism rather than a result of resistance -- if we would express our real regret at the disease, rather than an effect of the remedy.

If the people of the North would cease to hurl thunderbolts at us from their pulpits, to fulminate firebrands into our society through their press, to attempt to intercept us in every territory, to defraud and to force us out of our rights; if, in other words, they would "render unto Ceasar the things that are Ceasars" concede to us equality in the Union, offer no illegal and unjust obstruction to the extension of our institutions, if they would let us alone and leave slavery to the states, and to the same protection and privileges enjoyed by all other property under the Constitution, the agitation of the question would come to an end on the instant. The trouble would cease simultaneously with the cause that produced it. But, as long as they empty their vials of wrath upon our heads, ours must be emptied on theirs. If they propagate calumnies, we must refute them. If they incite their people to hate and assault the South, we must incite our people to reciprocate the hatred, and repel the attacks. If they smite us on the cheek, we cannot and will not turn the other to them too. If there is a danger in agitation, there is still more danger in supineness and submission. The South has never assumed an attitude of hostility to the North. Our position has always been and is still that of right and honor and virtue, acting on the defensive against injustice, immorality and wrong. It is true we hurl back the anathemas of the North, resist their taunts and jeers with fourfold force and truth, and expose to the public gaze the venality and cankerous corruption of their free society. But we never propose to amend their morals, to ameliorate the intolerable fits of their body politic, to interfere in any way with their institutions through that instrumentality of the federal government. We never send emissaries among them to incite socialism -- incendiaries to instigate rebellion of labor against capital, to persuade the starving fugitive slave and their tens of thousands of desperate paupers to rise in revolt against their philanthropic millionaires. We never protest against the protection of their property by the Constitution. We leave their domestic matters to themselves; and all we ask is an observance on their part, of the same policy towards us. As long as their sword is unsheathed, ours will be also. We make no war upon them; but as long as our rights are denied, the temple of Janus can never be closed.


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