What is Coercion?
William G. Brownlow

9. The President of the new Confederacy has confined his Cabinet appointments to the old Democratic party, - appointing none but Breckinridge Disunionists, although the Bell and Douglas men were a majority in some of their States. The provisional Government is, therefore, a revival of corrupt Southern Democracy, and is a lawless mob banded together for the purpose of perpetuating that exploded, hateful, and God-forsaken organization. It is not a government of the people, and it will not long be tolerated by the people. The people, who ought to be the source of power, have been refused the privilege of passing upon any one of their ordinances of Secession, and now they are to be refused the privilege of passing upon their Constitution. I would sooner go into the worst form of European monarchy than into this bogus Confederacy. And if elected Governor of this State, I will oppose, to the bitter end, any fellowship with such Confederacy by the State of Tennessee.

10. I take the ground steadfastly to support the General Government in the exercise of every constitutional power, to enforce the execution of the Federal laws, and to sustain in all their integrity the Constitution and the Union. In other words, I do not propose to sit quietly by and peacefully surrender our country, ourselves, our children, our peace and happiness, to the wicked schemes of treason. We hear much said about "coercing" a State, and about the tramp of hostile armies to conquer and subdue a State Government. Coercion of a State is an adroit form of expression, coined in the school of Secession to give dignity to treason. The American Constitution nowhere contemplates such a thing as war upon a State, either by the General Government or by a foreign Power. If a foreign nation attack or invade any State of the Union, it is not, in the theory of the Constitution or of international law, an act of war upon the State, but upon our General Government. Nor does the Constitution, operating as it does only upon individuals, recognize such a thing as war against the Government by a State, or an association of States. It treats resistance to its authority as rebellion, and those who join in such resistance as a MOB; and when any number of its own citizens band together for treasonable purposes, and levy war upon the General Government, it holds them individually responsible, and hangs them as traitors to this country. The founders of the Government avowed that it afforded the needful physical means to execute its powers. History gives us memorable examples of the use of those means for their purpose.

I repeat that the word "coercion" is one in very common use in these days, and it is very offensive to all advocates of Disunion. Like many other catch-words, it serves a purpose. Any thing looking to the enforcement of the laws, or the preservation of the public property in seceded States, or States about to secede, is called coercion, and the honest and confiding people are warned against it as a fearful despotism! This trick, like every thing else, will, in some quarters, serve its purpose. I deny the right of any State or number of States to secede, and I insist upon it that the seceded States, one and all, are constitutionally as much in the Union as they were six months ago. While laws exist in reference to them, it is the duty of the Government to enforce them. If this cannot or ought not to be done, why, let them be repealed. This the public good and the national honor alike require. A State cannot be coerced, but individuals in it can, and ought to be, who violate the laws and plot treason.


Sketches of the Rise, Progress, and Decline of Secession by W. G. Brownlow
George W. Childs, Philadelphia, 1862, pages 235-238.