Scatter Desolation and Carnage

George E. Pugh of Ohio
Senate, December 20 1860

This idea of my colleague, that the Constitution of the United States, of its own force, compels the Executive, and even compels Congress, to engage in hostilities with a part of our own people; it is amazing to me, and utterly revolting. Why, sir, we have absolute discretion whether to declare war or to maintain peace in regard to foreign nations. If our citizens are abused, if our territory is invaded, or even possessed, by hostile array, we, the Congress of the United States, consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives, may, if we deem it essential to our own interests, decline to authorize hostilities. Does any one deny that? Why, then, are we told that we have not as much liberty in deciding questions of war and peace with our fellow-citizens in South Carolina as in deciding such questions with foreign nations - a war, too, in which if my colleague be right, the unfortunate captives are not to be treated as we treat prisoners of another nation, but are to be executed in the most ignominious manner? Mr. President, I have not words to express my abhorrence of such a conclusion.

It is the lesson of history that whenever a man would commit some atrocity without being responsible to his own conscience he styles it doing God service. Persecutors, in all time, have burned or slain the body of their victim in order, as they alleged, to save his soul. What no Senator would do, upon his own responsibility, or from his own inclination - draw the sword upon a whole community of our people, scatter desolation and carnage throughout a State which, be her conduct ever so unjustifiable, has, at least, some cause of complaint - must it occur as if by the inexorable laws of fate? Where, in our senatorial oath, can such an obligation be distinguished? No, sir; we cannot avoid the responsibility of such calamities, if they should occur, by charging it upon the Constitution of the United States, or upon our oath of office. We will be responsible for bloodshed, for civil war, for anarchy, if we do not avoid them. We can avoid them; but our responsibility we cannot avoid - responsibility to God and our country, and to all the civilized world.


Great Debates in American History, Volume Five, pages 375-376
Current Literature Publishing Company, New York, 1913