The Force Bill

John Tyler of Virginia

There is no ambiguity about this measure. The prophecy has already gone forth; the President has said that the laws will be obstructed. The President has not only foretold the coming difficulties, but he has also assembled an army. The city of Charleston, if report spoke true, is now a beleagured city; the cannon of Fort Pinckney are pointing at it; and, although they are now quietly sleeping, they are ready to open their thunders whenever the voice of authority shall give the command.

And shall these terrors be let loose because some one man may refuse to pay some small modicum of revenue, which Congress, the day after it came into the treasury might vote in satisfaction of some unfounded claim? Shall we set so small a value upon the lives of the people? Let us at least wait to see the course of measures. We can never be too tardy in commencing the work of blood.

If the majority shall pass this bill they must do it on their own responsibility; I will have no part in it. When gentlemen recount the blessings of union; when they dwell upon the past, and sketch out, in bright perspective, the future, they awaken in my breast all the pride of an American; my pulse beats responsive to theirs and I regard union, next to freedom, as the greatest of blessings.

Yes, sir, "the Federal Union must be preserved." But how? Will you seek to preserve it by force? Will you appease the angry spirit of discord by an oblation of blood? Suppose that the proud and haughty spirit of South Carolina shall not bend to your high edicts in token of fealty; that you make war upon her, hang her governor, her legislators, and judges, as traitors, and reduce her to the condition of a conquered province - have you preserved the Union?

This Union consists of twenty-four States; would you have preserved the Union by striking out one of the States - one of the old thirteen? Gentlemen had boasted of the flag of our country, with its thirteen stars. When the light of one of these stars shall have been extinguished will the flag wave over us, under which our fathers fought? If we are to go on striking out star after star, what will finally remain but a central and a burning sun, blighting and destroying every germ of liberty? The flag which I wish to wave over me is that which floated in triumph at Saratoga and Yorktown. It bore upon it thirteen States, of which South Carolina was one.

Sir, there is a great difference between preserving union and preserving government; the Union may be annihilated, yet government preserved; but, under such a government, no man ought to desire to live.


Great Debates in American History, Volume Five, pages 94-95
Current Literature Publishing Company, New York, 1913