Secession Era Editorials Project

The Duty of the South

Richmond, Virginia, Enquirer [Democratic]

(16 February 1854)

This is no time for inaction. If the people of the South mean to insist on the recognition of their rights under the constitution, they must prepare for such a demonstration of their will and strength as must enforce a repeal of the unjust and odious restriction of 1820. There has never been before and perhaps there will never occur again, a conjuncture of circumstances so favorable for the re-conquest of the position which the South has lost by successive compromises of its rights. On our side we have the whole power of the Federal government and the moral support of a sound public sentiment; and we may exult in the assurance of harmony and zeal among our own people. With these advantages, there is no claim of right and justice which the South may not enforce by a fearless fidelity to its interests. But inaction will not do. A languid expression of public opinion is not all that is essential to the successful support of our rights. We must learn wisdom from our foe, and must counteract the effect of his vigorous blows by an equally energetic and imposing demonstration of our strength.

The North is not idle. Whatever hostility exists there to the repeal of the Missouri restriction, will be brought out with the utmost emphasis and power of expression. The opponents of the Nebraska bill have set in motion every engine of popular agitation. The public press, popular meetings, the pulpit and the State Legislatures have been employed as means for kindling the passions of the mob and coercing the action of Congress.

While the Abolitionists are thus inflaming the zeal of their followers, and marshalling the ranks of their forces, does it become the South to await the onset with apathy and indifference? Is it good policy to neglect the ordinary and necessary means of success, while our adversary is displaying the utmost energy in all his preparations for the contest? It seems to us, that that we should give them the support of a firm declaration of our rights, and an emphatic expression of our feelings. Can we expect zeal and courage of them if we manifest indifference and timidity in our own cause? If the Southern States stand as idle spectators of the struggle, may not the impression prevail that they feel no concern about the issue?

That there may be no doubt or misapprehension of the position of the South on this Nebraska question, we suggest that the Southern States should speak out their feeling and purpose. New York and Rhode Island, through their Legislatures, have pronounced against the repeal of the Missouri restriction, and doubtless other States in the North will follow their example. Let Virginia and the States of the South, in the same solemn and imposing mode, make a declaration of their rights under the constitution -- not in the tone of complain or of menace, but of calm resolution and earnest remonstrance. Let them make a demand for an equal position in the confederacy, and a just participation in the benefits of the Union. Let them protest against any violation of the great principle of non-intervention in regard to slavery, which the Compromise of 1850 established and guaranteed. The South is strong in a just cause, and its voice will be heard and respected.

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