Then Where Will You Draw The Line?
Elijah Babbitt of Pennsylvania
United States House of Representatives, January 20 1860

Now, sir, I have a long list of aggressions by the South upon the constitutional rights of the men of the North and the States of the North. It is a large one, for the aggressions have been numerous; but I will not present it now. I will wait for the good time coming. Many of these aggressions have been perpetrated through the instrumentality of the General Government, which has been in the hands of gentlemen of the South. I do not blame them for it. They have a right to get control of the Government if they can. We elected a man from the North; but when he got into the White House, he grew weak in the knees and trembled under southern thunder. Some of these aggressions have been perpetrated otherwise than through the General Government.

I will present them, but not now. But were they a hundred fold what they are, a hundred fold as numerous and as great, no Republican organization of the North, no man in the North, would ever mention the treasonable idea of seeking redress for them in any other way than through constitutional means and in the Union. They would not seek to redress them by a dissolution of the Union. If they could not get redress otherwise than by a dissolution, they would go without redress. They would never propose the calamitous, the world-astounding, ruinous, devilish remedy, of a dissolution of this glorious Union. You hear, sir, no proposition of that kind coming from the North.

Do gentlemen ever think of the consequences of a dissolution of this Union? They are many, and all of them calamitous to the most desperate degree. One immediate consequence would be that this Union, which has attained such a proud and lofty position among the nations of the earth, which has a flag respected everywhere, upon land and sea, and which is able everywhere to defend and to protect itself and avenge all insults, would be severed into fragments, that would sink down to the humbled, unprotected, and contemptible condition of the South American States. A dissolution could not peacefully be effected. It would be done in blood. Suppose it could be done peaceably: where, sir, would you draw the line? What people would be willing to have that line pass by their doors - a line which would separate the people of one section of the Union from another section? If, in God's providence, it must be done, I would say, let it be done in peace if possible. I would part rather in sorrow than in anger.

In my opinion you cannot draw that line, and preserve peace upon it. The thing is impossible. Your slave property would run over the line, and there would be no lawful rendition. You would pursue them across the line, and there would be resistance, bloodshed, retaliations, burnings, and arsons; and all sections of this Union would then inevitably be drawn into a bloody war, and the land be deluged in fraternal blood. It is just as inevitable as that water will find its own level. Feuds which exist between members of the same families, where they do exist, are the most bitter of all feuds. Wars that obtain between the segregated portions of the same people, are the most bloody, the most savage, and the longest continued, of any wars that take place in this world. All history attests the fact. Along this line of a thousand miles - a line, perhaps, which might run just by this Capitol - contending armies would continually fight, and desolate both sides of the line by fire and the sword. No family could live near it. The country would soon return back to its original state of uncultivated nature, to its own primeval forests. No man would desire to live, or could live, here; but the wolf and the panther, which long years ago prowled in this then unbroken wilderness, would return to their former home. The howl of the wolf and scream of the panther would again be heard along the banks of the Potomac - yes, and peradventure breed their young in the deserted Halls of this Capitol. It would be a retrogression of two hundred years in civilization backward towards barbarism.

In the progress of this event, the armies of the contending factions, with brigands at their heads, wearing tinseled baubles upon their shoulders, and calling themselves generals, would rise up by scores and fight against each other for supremacy, and exact contributions and forced loans from the industry of the people. There being no protection to life or property, the industry of the country would die out, and the whole land would become a howling wilderness. Ay, sir, and another indubitable consequence would be, that the peculiar institution of the South, slavery, upon which she sets so much value, would die out. It could not live after the dissolution of the Union.


The Congressional Globe, The Official Proceedings of Congress, Published by John C. Rives, Washington, D. C.
Thirty-Sixth Congress, 1st Session,
New Series...No. 35, Wednesday, January 25, 1860, page 546.