Newspapers Letters and Documents Maps Images Teaching Home

The Staunton Spectator, March 12, 1861, p. 2, c. 3

Lincoln's Inaugural.

On the first page of this paper will be found a correct copy of the Inaugural Address of the President. We know that it will be read with great interest by all of our readers. We hope that all will read it carefully and form their own opinions with reference to its character.--We think that he expresses the same views in reference to the Constitutional obligations of the Executive that Mr. Buchanan did. The Constitution invests the Executive with no discretionary powers in regard to the enforcement of the laws, but, on the contrary, makes it his imperative and sworn duty to see that they be faithfully executed. It is for the very reason that it is the duty of the Executive to have the laws enforced, and the duty of the people to yield obedience to them, that we have several times recommended the call of a National Convention for the purpose of obtaining the consent of three- fourths of the States to the peaceful withdrawal of the seceded States, and the release of the Executive from his obligations to enforce the laws in them. We believe that the same power which can Constitutionally change the character of our Government, can Constitutionally release the citizens of the seceded states from their obligations of obedience to the laws, and consequently relieve the Executive from his obligations to enforce them. We believe that this policy must be adopted, or that civil war, the direst of all calamities, will ultimately be the result. We regret that the President did not express a desire to be relieved, in the mode suggested, from his obligations to perform a duty which threatens such direful consequences. As the Executive has no power to recognize the independence of the seceded States, and no power to release the citizens thereof from their obligations of obedience to the laws, we hope that a National Convention will be called for these purposes.--To involved the country in civil war, as long as there remains any means to avoid it, would be more than folly and madness--it would be in the highest degree criminal. We cannot believe that any President would willingly involve the country in civil war.

The Inaugural Address is understood by some to indicate a purpose to enforce the laws at all hazards, and by others that the laws will be enforced only so far as it can be done peacefully.--It cannot be known certainly which is the proper construction, till the policy of the administration shall be more clearly indicated by its acts. If it shall, in reckless disregard of the peace of the country, persist in enforcing the laws where it must result in a conflict, the inevitable result will be that the whole South will be united in armed opposition to such a policy.

In the Senate, in Extra-Session, on Wednesday last, on a motion to print the usual number of copies of the Inaugural, Mr. Clingman, a secession Senator from North Carolina, opposed the policy of the Inaugural as he understood it, and said if it was carried out that it would lead inevitably to war. The Hon. Stephen A. Douglas dissented from the construction put upon the Inaugural by Senator Clingman, and spoke as follows:

Mr. Douglas said that he could not consent that the Senator's remarks should go out unanswered. He had read the Inaugural carefully, with a view of understanding what the policy of the Administration is to be, as therein indicated. It is characterized by great ability and with great distinctness on certain points. A critical analysis is necessary to arrive at the true construction. He had partially made an analysis, and had come to the conclusion that it was a peace rather than a war message. He had examined it candidly and critically, and he thought there was no foundation for a different opinion. On the contrary, there is a distinct pledge that the policy of the Administration shall be conducted exclusively with reference to a peaceful solution of our national difficulties. It is true the President indicates a certain line of policy, so to be conducted as to lead to a peaceful solution, but it was not as explicit as he (Mr. Douglas) desired. He then quoted from the Inaugural in support of his positions, saying that unless the means be furnished the President cannot execute the laws. He thought the President in his remarks on the subject was referring to future action of Congress giving power to enforce obedience to them.

The President must have been aware that in 1832 a law was passed to enable General Jackson to enforce the revenue laws in the port of Charleston. The act expired in two years.--Was it to be supposed that Mr. Lincoln thought he had more power without than General Jackson had with the aid of legislation? He repeated that when the President pledges himself to collect the revenue and enforce the laws, unless Congress withhold the requisite means, is he not to be understood that his act is dependent on the further course of Congress?

He thought that was the proper construction of the Inaugural, for the President says he shall perform his duty "so far as practicable, unless his rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold the requisite means or in some authoritative manner direct to the contrary."

The President further says:

"The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy and possess the property and places belonging to the Government, and to collect the duties on imports, but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere."

The President does not say he will take and hold, occupy and possess them. This was equivocal language, but he did not condemn the President for it. "Beyond what may be necessary" for these objects, there will be no irritation, no using of force among the people anywhere. It is the duty of the President to enforce the other laws. It cannot be justified that the revenue laws be enforced, and all other laws which afford protection as a compensation for taxes shall not be enforced.

He thought that there were two forms in which they could find a solution of these doubts. The President says: "Where hostility to the United States, in any interior locality, shall be so great and so universal as to prevent competent resident citizens from holding the Federal offices, there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers among the people, for that object."--The President draws a distinction between the exterior and the interior. If he has power in one case, he has power in the other. If it is his duty in once case to enforce the laws, it is his duty in the other. There was no provision of law which authorizes a distinction in this respect between places in the interior and on the seaboard.

This brought him to the construction of another clause--the most important of all, and the key to the entire policy; but he was rejoiced when he read it. He invited attention to it, as showing conclusively that the President is pledged to a policy which looks to a peaceful solution of our difficulties, and against all others. He says: "The course here indicated will be followed, unless current events and experience shall show a modification or change to be proper, and in every case and exigency my best discretion will be exercised according to circumstances actually existing, and with a view and a hope of a peaceful solution of the National difficulties and the restoration of fraternal sympathies and affections." In other words, the President says if the collection of the revenue will lead to a peaceful solution, then it will be collected. If the abandonment of the collection will have that effect, then it will be abandoned. So of the forts and arsenals in the seceding States. He will recapture or not recapture them, and will reinforce or not reinforce Forts Sumpter and Pickens. He is pledged in either case to a peaceful policy and to acting with this view. If this is not the true construction, why was there not inserted a pledge to use coercion, retake the forts, recapture the arsenals, collect the revenue and enforce the laws, unless there we attached to each one a condition on which the pledge was to be carried out? But the pledge is only to do it in order to a peaceful solution, and for no other cause."

The next day Mr. Wigfall, a secessionist, and a Senator from a State which has actually seceded, made a speech putting a war construction upon the Inaugural, as Clingman had done the day before, to whom Hon. Stephen A. Douglas replied. The following is an extract from the reply of Mr. Douglas:

Mr. Douglas repeated what he said yesterday--that he had carefully analyzed the inaugural for the purpose of ascertaining distinctly and certainly what was the policy of the new administration, and he came to the conclusion that it was the wish and purpose of the President to pursue a peaceful policy and avoid war. He was rejoiced to be able to arrive at the conclusion. This was the whole substance of what he yesterday said or desired to say.

The Senator from Texas thought the expression of this opinion or conclusion was calculated to have a bad effect upon the country; but it struck him (Mr. Douglas) that if the country could rest secure in the belief that they are to have peace--no civil war, no armies mustered into conflict--it would have a happy effect. He was sure every man who loved this glorious Union, for it was glorious, and even dearer to him now than ever before--every man who loved his kind, and was proud of being an American, ought to rejoice in the belief that peace can be maintained.

If he were allowed to judge of the various speeches of the Senator from Texas, he was forced to the conclusion that the Senator did not regard the question of peace as he did. The Senator had told them more than once that they could take their choice between peace and war, and that he did not care. But he, (Mr. Douglas) cared- -and therein consisted the difference between the Senator and himself. Because he was desirous of peace, he was anxious to ascertain what was to be the policy of the administration.

He had arrived at his conclusions candidly and fairly, and had expressed his gratification at the result. If he had arrived at the conclusion that the Inaugural means war, he would have denounced it. He was with the President as far as the President was for peace, and would be against him when he departed from that line of policy.

In reference to his speech at Norfolk, during the Presidential canvass, in which he replied to the questions propounded by Mr. Lamb, Mr. Douglas said:

I see no reason to change or modify any sentiment therein expressed.

I believed then, as I now do, that I expressed the sound constitutional principles on which alone the government can exist. As to hanging, the Senator was under some misapprehension, or his mind asserts of a character which magnifies one man to two men. I only spoke of hanging one person, and that in a certain contingency.-- And I did say, that if Mr. Lincoln should be elected President according to the Constitutional forms, he must be inaugurated; and, under my constitutional duty, I would sustain him in the exercise of all legitimate duties of the station.

I then said, if, after he was elected, he should violate the constitution of the country, and commit crimes against the laws of the land, I should be for punishing him according to the law. And if the penalty under the Constitution be to hang him, I would hang him higher than Haman. I would have said the same thing of any other man who might abuse the trust reposed in him by the American people. I asserted it as a general principle.

Mr. Mason followed, characterizing the Inaugural as a proclamation of war. Mr. Douglas again replied, declaring his belief that the President was in favor of a pacific policy, and the Republican party also sustained that policy as the best under the circumstances.