The Constitution Cannot Restrain The Majority
Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar of Mississippi
United States House of Representatives, December 7 1859

Scarcely six weeks have elapsed since a foray was made upon one of the sovereign States of this Union by a band of lawless, desperate men, fresh from the scenes of bloodshed, arson, murder, and treason in Kansas, of which it has been the seat. A public armory belonging to the Federal Government is seized; southern citizens - innocent, law-abiding citizens - are taken prisoners; peaceable citizens, attending to their ordinary business, are shot down like dogs in the streets in a southern town; southern soil is polluted with the blood of traitors to the State and to the Union. After being taken prisoners, their correspondence is laid before the country. The face of that correspondence shows that the leader of these bloodstained desperadoes was in communication with men distinguished for their intelligence, for their wealth, and for their moral worth, all over the North.


Sir, there are twenty members from the South standing upon this floor by virtue of the negro, not as property, but as "persons not free." Put them out, will you? Sir, your fathers and my fathers did not put the negro out. They put him as an institution, of property, and of society, and of government, in the Constitution which you gentlemen swore to support. [Applause.] They did more than that. They put in that Constitution, which you swore to support, a clause making it the duty of Congress to suppress insurrection; and when you signed your name to a document which encouraged and incited servile insurrection, you did it in the teeth of an oath to suprress insurrection. [Applause.] That is not all. That same Constitution makes it your duty to return the negro to his owner, even when he escapes into your own hireling state. Not only that, that same Constitution, framed by your fathers and my fathers in a lofty spirit of enlarged patriotism, also made the instiution of slavery part and parcel of this Federal Government. It now holds here titles to this floor, and is an important element of Federal power by virtue of that instrument. Put the negro out at your peril! No, sir, it cannot be done. We of the South, under the necessities of our position, see what is our mission. Regarding that Constitution as the instrument of our protection, we are determined to maintain its sacred compromises. You being a majority, and looking upon it as an instrument of restraint upon your power, have taken issue with the Constitution and are attempting to throw off its restrictions.


Sir, if there is one idea touching merely human affairs, which gives me more of mental exultation than another, it is the conception of this grand Republic, this great Union of sovereign States, holding millions of brave, resolute men, in peace and order, not by brute force, not by standing armies, indeed by no visible embodiment of law, but by the silent omnipotence of one great, grand thought - the Constitution of the United States. [Applause.] That Constitution is the life and soul of this great Government. Put out that light, and where is "that Promethean heat which can its light relume." That is our platform. We stand upon it. We intend to abide by it and to maintain it, and we will submit to no persistent violation of its provisions. I do not say it for any purpose of menace, but for the purpose of defining my own position. When it is violated, persistently violated, when its spirit is no longer observed on this floor - I war upon your government; I am against it. I raise then the banner of secession, and I will fight under it as long as the blood flows, and ebbs in my veins. [Applause.]


The Congressional Globe, The Official Proceedings of Congress, Published by John C. Rives, Washington, D. C.
Thirty-Sixth Congress, 1st Session, New Series...No. 1, Wednesday, December 8, 1859, pages 44-45.