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SEIZURE OF FORTS, ARSENALS, REVENUE CUTTERS, AND
OTHER PROPERTY OF THE UNITED STATES.
FEBRUARY 28, 1861.-Ordered to be printed.
Mr. HOWARD, from the select committee of five, made the following
The select committee of five, appointed on the 9th of January, to whom
have been referred the special messages of the President and sundry
That they have diligently considered the several matters referred
1st. The protection of the public property, accompanied by a bill
2d. The collection of the revenue, with a bill.
3d. On the subject of a secret hostile organization, or conspiracy,
4th. The position of the ships, resignation of naval officers, &c.
5th. On the subject of treating with persons who claim to have
It now remains to consider briefly the remaining subjects intrusted
Under the instructions of the House, the committee were to make
development of acts of lawless violence in a portion of the confederacy--the notoriety and undisputed character of the facts--have, perhaps, rendered exact and official inquiry less important than could have been anticipated on these subjects. All the information the committee deemed necessary has been obtained in the form of commu
cations from the executive departments of the government, and are herewith communicated. But in proportion as the necessity of proof of their existence has diminished, the consideration of their magnitude and importance has been rendered difficult and more imperative. The state of things, whether we call it secession, rebellion, or revolution, considered in its magnitude and character, presents questions unsurpassed in importance by any ever presented to this or any other government. It becomes a question of existence to the government, and involves not only the happiness of the 31,000,000 of our own present population, but of more than ten times that number of their unborn descendants, and the hopes of the friends of free government throughout the world. It is time for the American Congress to consider what the civilization of the world, the hopes of mankind, and the spirit of the fathers hovering over us, expect us to do. One of the most remarkable things ever developed in the history of any country is the steadiness, uniformity, and power of the ratio of the increase of our population. For seventy years it has scarcely changed, and is as strong to-day, on a basis of 30,000,000, as it was when we had but 5,000,000 of inhabitants. It doubles our population once in twentyfive years. Could we conceive it possible for this same ratio to continue for twice seventy years more, the year anno Domini 2000 would find within our present bounds 1,600,000,000 of people. The question as to what shall be the condition of this vast multitude, and whether the spirit of anarchy, lawlessness, and violence on the one hand, or of oppression and tyranny on the other, shall prevent, under the inevitable laws of population, their existence at all, and turn this heritage into a barren waste, may well lead us to pause and consider, and when we have discovered our duty, apply ourselves to its discharge with unceasing fidelity and with unflinching firmness. Hitherto our progress is without a parallel. And whatever may be the fate of the republic, if it shall crumble into dust by the folly and madness of the hour, not only unchecked, but permitted, and even aided by the rashness on the one hand, or imbecility on the other, of those who exercise brief authority in its different departments, the memorials of its greatness and beneficence, its glory and renown, of the hopes and fears that have hitherto clustered around it, and the disinterested patriotism and the sterling virtues of its founders, are at least secure. So much is safe. Their genial influence will ever continue to be felt and bless our race till time shall end. What, then, is secession ? This question forces itself upon our attention at every step. Either in its legal or constitutional aspect, or in its revolutionary character, or in the fearful consequences of its unchecked progress, its meets us at every step ; it shapes all policy ; it imposes new and imperative duties; and since it threatens the existence of the government itself, its treatment should command the wisdom and patriotism of the nation,
Self-preservation is the first law of a nation. The power to defend its implements of self-preservation is one of the clearest of all its powers. We cannot conceive of a nation without the power to build and defend forts and all implements of war within its own jurisdiction. And yet secession claims to have seized, within sixty days, fourteen forts, costing $5,580,858, and mounting 1,124 guns. These forts are not only held against the United States, but two others are closely besieged, and assault is every day threatened. The arsenals, the arms, the revenue cutters, the custom-houses, the post offices, the mints, the money, and even the hospitals of the United States are seized and held with impunity. The operations of commerce are impeded. Seven States claim to have released themselves from all constitutional obligations; to have disrupted the government, and formed a new and independent confederacy in the bounds of the United States, all in the name of secession; and yet we are told secession is not only a peaceful but a constitutional remedy; as if the Constitution had
provided for its own destruction by an inconsiderable fraction of the power that made it.
To show the utter baselessness of this claim as a constitutional remedy, it is only necessary to consider that the ordinance of secession, in any one of the States, can by no possibility rise higher, as a sovereign act of the State, than a State constitution adopted by an organic convention. If we concede all possible regularity and formality in the convention, and the fullest sanction of the people of the State to the ordinance of secession, it is still no higher than the organic law of the State; just high enough, in fact, to be subordinate to the Constitution of the United States. Article 6, section 1, of the Constitution, declares:
"This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution [ordinance of secession] or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding."
The committee content themselves with this simple statement, to show the unconstitutionality of the whole proceeding.
It is also clear that the claim is destructive of the first principles of government in every form ; for the rightful powers of governments are made up of such individual natural rights as have been surrendered by individuals for the purpose of obtaining from the governments thus created security and protection for their remaining rights. The powers of a State in the Union are derived from the individuals of the State. Hence the maxim of our fathers: "All governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Whether we consider the government of the United States as a compact between the States, or as a Union of the whole people, secession is equally illegal and absurd, and equally destructive of the first principles of all government. If our government be only a compact between the States, the States, in forming the compact, exercised only such power as they had derived from the people, and if a State may resume the power--that is, secedeit follows irresistibly that each individual of the State may resume his sovereignty, even while marching to the gallows, and all laws be practically nullified, and government rendered impossible. Secession, if admitted, would not only destroy the noble fabric of our fathers, but plunge the world into barbarism and anarchy by rendering all government impossible.
The committee therefore adopt the language of President Buchanan, in his last annual message, that "secession is revolution ; it may be justifiable revolution, but it is, nevertheless, revolution.” In the language of President Jackson, "It is incompatible with the existence of the Union; contradicted by the letter of the Constitution; unauthorized by its spirit ; inconsistent with every principle on which it was founded ; and destructive of the great objects for which it was formed."
Since secession is thus hostile to the existence of the government, and self-preservation is the highest duty of every government, it follows in the present emergency that “the duties of the government become the measure of its powers.
And whenever it fails to exercise the power necessary and proper to the discharge of the duty prescribed by the Constitution, it violates the public trust not less than it would in transcending its proper limits. To refrain, therefore, from the high and solemn duties,” (imposed by the present condition of the country,) "however painful the performance may be, and thereby tacitly permit the rightful authority of the government to be contemned, and its laws obstructed by a single State, would neither comport with its own safety, nor the rights of the great body of the American people.
But when the secessionists are driven to admit that it has no legal basis, the ever-ready reply is, that we have no power to coerce a State. This only creates a false issue, and diverts, attention from the true
This was so clearly stated in a recent debate by a distinguished senator that the committee adopt his language as their own.
His statement may be deemed the more important from his supposed connexion with the incoming administration.
“ The President says that no State has a right to secede, but we have no constitutional power to make war against a State. The dilemma results from an assumption that those who, in such a case, act against the federal government, act lawfully as a State; although manifestly they have perverted the power of the State to an unconstitutional purpose. A class of politicians in New England set up this theory and attempled to practice upon it in our war with Great Britain. Mr. Jefferson did not hesitate to say that States must be kept within their constitutional sphere by impulsion, if they could not be held there by attraction. Secession was then held to be inadmissible in the face of a public enemy. But if it is untenable in one case, it is necessarily so in all others. I fully admit the originality, the sovereignty, and the independence of the several States within their sphere. But I hold the federal government to be equally original, sovereign, and independent within its sphere. And the government of the State can no more absolve the people residing within its limits from allegiance to the Union, than the government of the Union can absolve them from allegiance to the State. The Constitu