Mr. President–I fully concur with the gentleman from Montgomery, [Mr. Yancey,] in the propriety of immediately passing the resolution now under consideration. All the powers of the State of Alabama should be pledged to aid in resisting any attempt to coerce a seceding State back into the Union.
Sir, the Southern States recognize the right of secession. It constitutes the very essence of State sovereignty, and is inseparable from it. A State is the best and sole judge of her own grievances, and as a party to the Federal compact must, herself, decide in the last resort “as well of the infraction as of the mode and measure of redress.” If, in her sovereign capacity, she determines to resume her independence, can we, who have a common interest in the protection of this right, look calmly on and see her invaded by Federal soldiers?
Sir, the Convention which framed our Constitution expressly refused to grant to the General Government the power to employ force against a State. The States came into the Union “free, sovereign and independent.” They have never parted with their freedom or sovereignty. They established a Government to act as their agent; and now, to permit that agent to employ force against the States would be to sanction the grossest usurpation. It would be converting the Government into a despotism.
Sir, the Union was never intended to be preserved by force. The fact that the power to employ force against a State was refused in the Convention which framed the Constitution, proves that those who constructed our Government knew that it could not be maintained by force. Of what value would the Union be, if the States composing it had to be reduced to obedience by the strong arm of military power? The permanence and security of our Government depend alone upon the principle of common affection and common interest. Force is the last argument of kings, and cannot keep these States together.
If then, we recognize the right of secession, and intend to maintain that right against any power that may resist its exercise, why not so declare by passing this resolution? This course will give encouragement to our Southern sisters. It will give strength to the Southern cause. It may secure peace. If the Government at Washington is informed that the coercive policy with which South Carolina is now threatened will be resisted, and that the first Federal gun fired against Charleston will summon to the field every Southern man who can bear arms, it may produce a peaceful solution of the pending difficulties. If it should not, then the responsibility will rest alone upon our assailants. All we can now do is to warn them against the madness of attempting coercion.
We wish peace–we do not intend to provoke war–we shall act on the defensive. But if war is forced upon us, our enemies should know, that the Southern States, whose rights, whose honor, and whose independence are alike at stake, intend to stand side by side in the contest, prepared to make common cause and to meet one common fate.
Speech delivered January 9, 1861.