The Republican Party had triumphed in the election, but what would that mean? Different sections of the country had vastly different answers to that question.
Radicals in the Deep South foresaw disaster if they remained in the Union. Their editorials indicate that they believed Republicans would immediately attack slavery. If the South wanted to keep their institutions intact, the radicals said they must take preemptive action and secede from the Union.
Today’s editorial comes from a newspaper in Lexington, Kentucky. The editorial is remarkable for a number of reasons. Most obviously, the editorial was published in a Border State. Though slavery was well-entrenched in Kentucky, it paled in comparison to states in the Deep South. For instance, slaves made up 57.2 percent of South Carolina’s population, 55.2 percent in Mississippi, 46.9 percent in Louisiana, and over 45 percent in Alabama. However, slaves accounted for less than 20 percent of Kentucky’s population.
Though the writer lamented Republican victory in 1860 and feared that secession might one day become necessary, he did not call for immediate secession. The mere election of a sectional party to national office was not reason enough to sever the ties that bound the Union together. The editor called for a cautious, balanced approach to the looming conflict.
I have added this editorial to the Primary Documents page. Here it is in full:
“Submit to the Constitution, but Resist the First Attempt to Enforce the Principles of the Republican Party”
The Kentucky Statesman [Lexington, KY]
November 13, 1860
Pending the canvass just closed we repeatedly expressed the opinion that the election of Lincoln per se, under all the forms of law, ought not to be made the occasion of severing the present relations of the States and disrupting the confederacy. We assumed that position in full view of the movements which have been subsequently initiated, and now, with our most unwelcome expectations realized, we adhere to it. We would that Kentucky, by unanimous voice, could be induced thus to define her position. The attitude of our State demands at this juncture that her position be taken with great care; that our people be neither swayed by vain and senseless cries of “Union!” “Union!” nor be moved by what we must regard as a natural and just sympathy with our sister States of the South. Let Kentucky stand square up to the Union mark, but let her stand as firmly and boldly to the Constitution; let her be for the Union, but as firmly let her demand an observance of the Constitution. In a word, let her pledge no allegiance in advance to a union under a violated Constitution. Our position seems to us right and susceptible of clear and brief statement. We do not receive the success of the Republican party as the “fate of war.” It can not be regarded as the mere triumph of one man over another, or as the success of one political organization over a contending party. The verdict of the people on 6th of November can not be received and bowed to with the deference we are accustomed in this country to accord to the will of the majority. On the contrary, that verdict was wrong, radically, vitally wrong; it can not be reconciled with any reasonable hope of permanent union, nor can its enforcement be submitted to. The only hope of union is in the reversal of that verdict. The slave States can not and will never submit to the administration of the government upon the principles and policy as embodied in the platform of the Republican party. The principles enunciated in that instrument are directly opposed to the Constitution, are utterly subversive of the equality of the States, are destructive to all the rights of African slavery, and if enforced, must inevitably upturn our whole social system in the South and destroy the present Union. We flatly reject the cardinal idea of the Republican party, viz: the doctrine of an “Irrepressible Conflict,” as antagonistic to the fundamental article of the compact of union between the States, and we hold that any attempt to employ the arm of the Federal Government upon either side of that “conflict” will and ought to divide the confederacy. The Southern States will not and ought not to submit to the inauguration of these Republican principles into the Federal administration, but should resist them even to the dissolution of the Union. We, therefore, counsel acquiescence in Lincoln’s election, or rather in the recent verdict of the people, upon the distinct and unequivocal expression of strong hope, if not belief, that no real attempt will be made to carry but the measures avowed by his party. If we believed that the Federal administration would and could now be used to carry out the aggressions of fanaticism against slavery, our voice would now be for resistance. But we cling yet to a hope for the Union. We are now for submitting to the Constitution, and not to the carrying out of Republican principles. The South has never yet resisted the Constitution nor violated any of its provisions. Let us adhere to that position. Let us submit to the Constitution, under the forms of which Mr. Lincoln has been elected; but inasmuch as the Constitution does not compel us to submit to such infractions of its provisions as would degrade us, we would urge resistance to an attempted enforcement of Republican principles to the bitter end. Our position is, then, briefly this: as partizans we opposed Lincoln because of the enunciation of his platform; as citizens we must measure our loyalty by his official acts. Then we would acquiesce in his inauguration and submit to his administration as long as he infracts none of the guarantees of the Constitution, but resist the moment he employs his official authority to carry out the purposes of the Republican party, submit to Lincoln, but resist the exponent of Republicanism. As an individual citizen duly elected, let him have our allegiance; but as the representative of the “Irrepressible Conflict” doctrine, never submit to his official authority. Let us do all the Constitution requires—only that and nothing more. We are neither submissionists nor secessionist. We stand by the Constitution and advise no submission to its violation. Lincoln’s election per se is not an infraction of any provision of the Constitution, and we submit; his attempt to carry out the avowed purposes of his party, to use the Federal authority on the side of free labor, in the irrepressible conflict, would be a violation of the Constitution, and when that is proposed we are for resistance to the death. To our Southern friends we would appeal to postpone this resistance until the Republican platform is actually made the basis of Lincoln’s official administration. Don’t resist to the point of revolution a party platform, but await an attempt to enforce it by official acts. Let revolution come when the Constitution is trampled upon; let not resistance be predicated upon the purpose of even a successful party, to trample upon it. There is hope that Lincoln will not be so insane as to attempt to meet the purposes of his party, and there is stronger hope that he will not have the power to do it. Let us exhaust this hope, and when the proper time comes let us stand together. Let the Southern States, identified as they are in interest, act in concert. Wait, wait, wait, and if we fail to preserve the Union with a Constitution intact, then let us have a UNITED SOUTH.