Not a Southern or Any Other Confederacy

Andrew Johnson of Tennessee
Senate, December 18 1860

We are told that certain States will go out and tear this accursed Constitution into fragments, and drag the pillars of this mighty edifice down upon us and involve us all in one common ruin. Will the border States submit to such a threat? No. If they do not come into the movement the pillars of this stupendous fabric of human freedom and greatness and goodness are to be pulled down, and all will be involved in one common ruin. Such is the threatening language used. "You shall come into our confederacy, or we will coerce you to the emancipation of your slaves. That is the language which is held toward us.

We in the South have complained of and condemned the position assumed by the Abolitionists. We have complained that their intention was to hem slavery in, so that, like the scorpion when surrounded by fire, if it did not die from the intense heat of the scorching flames, it would perish in its own poisonous skin. Now, our sister, without consulting her sisters, without caring for their interest or their consent, says that she will move forward; that she will destroy the Government under which we have lived, and that hereafter, when she forms a government or a constitution, unless the border States come in, she will pass laws prohibiting the importation of slaves into her State from those States, and thereby obstruct the slave trade among the States, and throw the institution back upon the border States, so that they will be compelled to emancipate their slaves upon the principle laid down by the Abolition party. That is the rod held over us!

I tell our sisters in the South that so far as Tennessee is concerned she will not be dragged into a Southern or any other confederacy until she has had time to consider; and then she will go when she believes it to be her interest, and not before. I tell our Northern friends, who are resisting the execution of the laws made in conformity with the Constitution, that we will not be driven on the other hand into their confederacy, and we will not go into it unless it suits us, and they give us such guaranties as we deem right and proper. We say to you of the South we are not to be frightened and coerced. Oh, when one talks about coercing a State, how maddening and insulting to the State; but, when you want to bring the other States to terms, how easy to point out a means by which to coerce them! But, sir, we do not intend to be coerced.

There are many ideas afloat about this threatened dissolution, and it is time to speak out. The question arises in reference to the protection and preservation of the institution of slavery, whether dissolution is a remedy or will give to it protection. I avow here, to-day, that if I were an Abolitionist, and wanted to accomplish the overthrow and abolition of the institution of slavery in the Southern States, the first step that I would take would be to break the bonds of this Union, and dissolve this Government. I believe the continuance of slavery depends upon the preservation of this Union and a compliance with all the guaranties of the Constitution. I believe an interference with it will break up the Union; and I believe a dissolution of the Union will, in the end, though it may be some time to come, overthrow the institution of slavery. Hence we find so many in the North who desire the dissolution of these States as the most certain and direct and effectual means of overthrowing the institution of slavery.

What protection would it be to dissolve this Union? What protection would it be to us to convert this nation into two hostile powers, the one warring with the other? Whose property is at stake? Whose interest is endangered? Is it not the property of the border States? Yes; slavery would commence to retreat southward the very moment this Government was converted into hostile powers, and you made the line between the slaveholding and non-slaveholding States the line of division. Then what remedy do we get for the institution of slavery? Must we keep up a standing army? Must we keep up forts bristling with arms along the whole border? This is a question to be considered, one that involves the future; and no step should be taken without mature reflection.

Again: if there is one division of the states, will there not be more than one? I heard a Senator say the other day that he would rather see this Government separated into thirty-three fractional parts than to see it consolidated. I am opposed to the consolidation of Government, and I am as much for the reserved rights of States as any one; but, rather than see this Union divided into thirty-three petty governments, with a little prince in one, a potentate in another, a little aristocracy in a third, a little democracy in a fourth, and a republic somewhere else; a citizen not being able to pass from one State to another without a passport or a commission from his government; with quarreling and warring among the little petty powers, which would result in anarchy; I would rather see this Government to-day converted into a consolidated government. It would be better for the American people; it would be better for our kind; it would be better for humanity; better for Christianity; better for all that tends to elevate and ennoble man, than breaking up this splendid, this magnificent, this stupendous fabric of human government, the most perfect that the world ever saw, and which has succeeded thus far without a parallel in the history of the world.

I tell our Northern friends that the constitutional guaranties must be carried out; for the time may come when, after we have exhausted all honorable and fair means, if this Government still fails to execute the laws, and protect us in our rights, it will be at an end. Gentlemen of the North need not deceive themselves in that particular; but we intend to act in the Union and under the Constitution, and not out of it. We do not intend that you shall drive us out of this house that was reared by the hands of our fathers. It is our house. We have a right here; and because you come forward and violate the ordinances of this house I do not intend to go out; and if you persist in the violation of the ordinances of the house we intend to eject you from the building and retain the possession ourselves.


Great Debates in American History, Volume Five, pages 371-373
Current Literature Publishing Company, New York, 1913