Secession Era Editorials Project

The Crisis in Congress -- Duty of the Majority

Richmond, Virginia, Enquirer [Democratic]

(15 May 1854)

The country contemplates the progress of the present extraordinary struggle in the House of Representatives with intense anxiety, not simply because its result will determine the fate of the Nebraska bill, but because it involves also the infinitely more momentous issue of the stability of the Union. The course of the minority who oppose a factious resistance to the progress of the public business, and thwart the well-ascertained will of Congress by violence, is rebellion against the spirit and intent, if not against the forms of Republican government; and must terminate, if successful, in disunion and civil tumult. It is not contemplated in the theory nor is it thought possible in the practice of our institutions, that the passions of a faction should prevail over the will of the majority, and the moment such an event happens the supremacy of law and the authority of government are overthrown. One instance of successful repetition of the experiment, and the government would be at the mercy of faction. And this, upon the courage and firmness of the true men who have so resolutely stood against the revolutionary resistance of a faction in the House of Representatives, the stability of the government and the destiny of the Union depend. We can have no doubt of the issue of the struggle. We cannot believe that Congress will betray the interests of the Union into the hands of faction. We believe the majority appreciate the responsibility of their position, and that their conduct will justify the hopes of the country. But they cannot triumph with their present tactics. Extreme cases demand extreme remedies, and it becomes the duty of the majority, if necessary, to repel violence by violence, and to trample under foot the arbitrary formalities of parliamentary law, rather than suffer them to be converted into an engine in the hands of faction for the overthrow of the government. There is a great law of self-defence above all conventional regulations, which not only justifies but demands the disregard of ordinary restraints, if necessary to the execution of its supreme decree. The principle of the power of the majority is essential to the authority of government, and should not be sacrificed to those technical rules which are ordained for the protection of the rights of a minority. The stability of the Union and the welfare of the country are the ends for which government was instituted, and it would be absurd and suicidal to suffer any overscrupulous regard for mere incidents and accessories to defeat the great object of our political system. The regulations of parliamentary law are designed to facilitate legislation -- shall they be perverted to the purposes of a factious obstruction? Let the majority cut the gordian knot. Let them appeal to the ultimate end of government and to the supreme law of self-defence against the revolutionary resistance of the minority. If that majority will resort to the bold expedient of suspending or overruling those subordinate and arbitrary forms of parliamentary proceeding, of which faction avails itself to carry out its mischievous purposes, the country will ratify and applaud the conservative innovation and the salutary irregularity.

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