The War Between the States Sesquicentennial
The Founders gave no authority to the federal agent created by the States to wage war upon them. Senator Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana re-spoke the words of Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention George Mason, in the US Senate on December 31, 1860: “The most jarring elements of nature, fire and water, themselves, are not more incompatible than such a mixture of civil liberty and military execution…Will not the citizens of the invaded State assist one another, till they rise as one man, and shake off the Union altogether?”
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
The War Between the States Sesquicentennial:
Senator R.M.T. Hunter on Coercion and Secession:
“The time came, however, when the mantle of leadership that Buchanan had thrown upon himself was to pass to other shoulders; for on January 8, 1861, the President modified his original position [of having no authority to coerce a State] to permit the use of force against a State for defensive purposes. Immediately, Jefferson Davis took issue…”What power has the President to use the Army and Navy except to execute process?…Are we to have sergeants sent over the land instead of civil magistrates?…when we trace our history to its early foundation, under the first two Presidents…we find that this idea of using the Army and Navy to execute the laws at the discretion of the President, was one not entertained, still less acted upon, in any case.”
The mantle which Buchanan discarded fell upon the shoulders of [Senator] R.M.T. Hunter [of Virginia], who, on January 11, 1861, elaborately discussed the constitutional justification for the slogan of consent as an essential to the maintenance of the Union:
“I proceed then, Mr. President, to make good my proposition, that this Federal Government cannot be carried on within the limits and jurisdiction of a State, without the assent, the aid, and the sympathy of its people. In the first place, it depends on the Legislatures of the different States to elect members of this body. If a majority of the States, although they might represent a small minority of the people, were to refuse to send Senators here, your Government is gone; You have lost one of the most important arms of the system; you have no longer a Senate…Can you administer the judicial powers of this Government within a State if that State withdraws its assent and is determined to resist that administration?
Suppose a State repeals the penalties for murder as against the officers of the General Government; suppose it repeals the penalties for false imprisonment as against those officers;…if a State were to undertake to obstruct the course of Federal justice in that way, where would the remedy be found within the constitutional power of this Government? To obtain the right of exclusive legislation within the dock-yards, forts, arsenals, and other needful buildings, Congress must have, first, the consent of the States. That must be given under the Constitution. Suppose a State refuses its consent.
Where would be your court-houses, your forts, your custom-houses? Where would you have the locus in quo, from which to administer the functions and the power of this General Government? Everywhere, if they were to refuse to give you this assent, you would be under State jurisdiction; and thus it would be in the power of the State constantly to thwart, obstruct, and prevent the administration of Federal justice, or the administration of Federal power, within her limits and jurisdiction…
Sir, the only mode in which you could protect the administration of the Federal affairs and the Federal jurisdiction within the State, would be to set aside the State government by force, and to reduce it to a territorial condition; and then what would be the result? You first coerce a State because it secedes from thirty-two other members of this Confederacy; and you turn around and secede yourselves from it by reducing it from a condition of a State to the position of a Territory!”
(The South as a Conscious Minority, 1789-1861, A Study in Political Thought, Jesse T. Carpenter, New York University Press, 1930, pp. 218-219)