Subjugating South Carolina
Senator Edward Baker of Oregon responds below to former Vice President and then-Senator John Breckenridge of Kentucky in 1861. Baker preferred to prosecute war and subjugation against Americans rather than appeal to the peaceful settlement of vexing questions. It is reported that Baker appeared in the Senate that day in the uniform of a Northern colonel, riding whip and saber in hand. Being only vaguely familiar with the United States Constitution, he mistook the assertion of State sovereignty and consent of the governed for rebellion and insurrection, and perhaps approved of George III’s war upon the American colonies and subjugating them to England’s Constitution. In what could be divined as the just reward for a tyrant, Baker would be mortally wounded eleven weeks later by Virginian’s defending their homes and country at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, near Leesburg.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Subjugating South Carolina:
“The senator from Kentucky [Breckenridge] stands up here in a manly way in opposition to what he sees is the overwhelming sentiment of the Senate, and utters reproof, malediction, and prediction combined. Well sir, it is not every prediction that is prophesy. I confess Mr. President, that I would not have predicted three weeks ago the disasters which have overtaken our arms; and I do not think (if I were to predict now) that six months hence the senator will indulge in the same tone of prediction which is his favorite key now. I would ask him what would you have us do now—a Confederate army within twenty miles of us, advancing, or threatening to advance, to overwhelm your government; to shake the pillars of the Union; to bring it down around your head in ruins if you stay here?
Are we to stop and talk about an uprising sentiment in the north against the war? Is it not the manly part to go on as we have begun, to raise money, and levy armies, to organize them, to prepare to advance; when we do advance, to regulate that advance by all the laws and regulations that civilization and humanity will allow in time of battle? To talk to us about stopping is idle; we will never stop. Will the senator yield to rebellion? Will he shrink from armed insurrection? Will his State justify it? Shall we send a flag of truce?
When we subjugate South Carolina, what shall we do? We shall compel its obedience to the Constitution of the United States; that is all. Why play upon words? We do not mean, we have never said, any more. If it be slavery that men should obey the Constitution their fathers fought for, let it be so. We propose to subjugate rebellion into loyalty; we propose to subjugate insurrection into peace; we propose to subjugate Confederate anarchy into constitutional Union liberty. When the Confederate armies are scattered; when their leaders are banished from power; when the people return to a late repentant sense of the wrong they have done to a government they never felt but benignancy and blessing—then the Constitution made for us all will be felt by all, like the descending rains from heaven which bless all alike.
Sir, how can we retreat? What will become of constitutional government? What will become of public liberty? What of past glories? What of future hopes? No sir; a thousand time no, sir! We will rally…we will rally the people, the loyal people, of the whole country. They will pour forth their treasure , their money, their men, without stint, without measure.”
(Edward D. Baker, senate speech of August 1, 1861. The World’s Famous Orations, W.J. Bryan, editor, Funk & Wagnall’s, 1906, pp. 3-8)