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On the Best Means of Subduing the Rebellion
Remarks of Representative Thaddeus Stevens,
in Congress, January 22, 1862

  
 
"Mr. Chairman, I shall avail myself of the custom when in the Committee of the Whole, to speak to other questions than that before the committee. On the first day of the session I introduced a bill containing two propositions. The first was to put a speedy and final end to this rebellion through the necessary instrumentality of emancipation; the second, to make full reparation to all loyal men who might suffer loss by that mode of warfare. That bill, with all others of a kindred kind, was removed from the House on motion of the gentleman from Illinois, [Mr. Kellogg] I propose to discuss it now. This is no accidental rebellion, as the pro-slavery gentleman from New York, [Mr. Steele] and other pro-slavery gentlemen suppose.

   But we are in the midst of a crisis which a sagacious statesman foretold thirty years ago, before such agitation existed. When John C. Calhoun and other South Carolina conspirators attempted to dissolve the Union, General Jackson, with an energy and patriotism which covered a thousand faults, crushed the treason and confounded the traitors. But he saw that they would persevere, and that the tariff, which was then the alleged cause, was but a mere pretense, and that the next pretext would be slavery. From that time to this they have educated their people in the doctrine of disunion, until they had prepared the popular mind for the rebellion which now disturbs the land. Those who suppose that the leaders were actuated by a desire to redress grievances, either real or fancied, greatly mistake the real object of the traitors. They have rebelled for no redress of grievances, but to establish a slave oligarchy which would repudiate the odious doctrine of the Declaration of Independence, and justify the establishment of an empire admitting the principle of king, lords, and slaves.

   The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were a constant reproach to the slaveholding South. They were in palpable contradiction to their domestic institutions. They were conscious of the impropriety of being governed by a Constitution which was an evident condemnation of their actual principles, and of their institutions founded on individual despotism. They feared that the principles of freedom and of the equality of man before the law--not intellectual, social, and political equality, as some have absurdly construed--might be gradually breathed from the North into southern ears and southern minds, and establish even there the doctrine of the rights of man. 

   They determined to arrest that evil by building up a barrier between freedom and slavery. So long as the reins of Government could be held by southern hands, and the influence of the administration be given to perpetuate and extend human bondage, they deemed it prudent to remain in the Union, receive its benifits, and hold its offices. But they saw that the regular march of civilization, wealth, and population was fast wresting power from the South and giving it to the North. They diligently prepared themselves for rebellion against the Constitution whenever they could no longer rule under it. It became evident that Mr. Buchanan was to be the last of southern Presidents, and his Cabinet being almost wholly devoted to the interests of slavery, set themselves boldly at work to weaken the North and strengthen the South. They transferred most of the best weapons of war from the North, where they were manufactures, to the South, where they could readily be seized. They plunged the nation into a heavy debt in time of peace. When the Treasury was bare of cash they robbed it of millions of bonds, and whatever else they could lay hands on. They fastened upon us an incipient free-trade system, which impaired our revenues, paralyzed our national industry, and compelled the exportation of our immense production of gold. They had reduced our Navy to an unserviceable condition, or dispersed it to the farthest oceans.

   Our little Army was on the Pacific coast, sequestered in Utah, or defending the southern States from their own Indians. Thus prepared for rebellion, no doubt the election of Lincoln precipitated the explosion, and it is well it did. Had Mr. Breckenridge been elected they would have had four years more to strengthen the South and weaken the North. I think that this rebellion has not come an hour too soon. Every humane and patriotic heart must grieve to see bloody and causeless rebellion, costing thousands of human lives and millions of treasure. But as it was predetermined and inevitable, it was long enough delayed. Now is the appropriate time to solve the greatest problem ever submitted to civilized man. From the foundation of Babylon until 1776, the kings of the earth claimed and the people believed in the divine right of kings, and the hereditary right of lords and nobles to govern the people without their consent. It has been their constant doctrine that the people were incapable of self-government; that free republics could not exist, except in small communities, where all could assemble for deliberation.

   But they utterly denied the possibility of maintaining a widely extended representative republic, controlled by universal suffrage. They predicted with the utmost confidence the overthrow of this Union from internal dissensions; and the want of strength of the central power. Eighty years of unexampled prosperity and loyalty to the Union seemed to belie their predictions. We were fast establishing, on a firm basis, the great truths proclaimed by our fathers, and which formed a memorable epoch in the science of government. But the unhallowed ambition of the most infamous traitors that ever disgraced the earth is now concurring with the wish of the prophets of despotism to accomplish their prediction. 

   Upon us and our constituents is cast the painful but glorious task of refuting this argument of tyrants, and this attempt of unholy rebels. If we meet and conquer in this dreadful issue, it will produce benifits which will compensate for all its costs. It will give to this nation centuries of peace and constitutional freedom. It will give to the civilized world assurance that the maintenance of perfect liberty and well regulated government is compatible with republican institutions. I do not flatter myself that this is a light task, or that it can be accomplished without the loss of thousands of valuable lives and millions of money. The rebels are proud, haughty, and obstinate. Their training has led them to believe that they are born to command. They will suffer disasterous defeats before their pride is humbled. They have a vast country to overrun. They declare that they will suffer it to become a smoking ruin before they will submit. That issue must be accepted. Better lay their whole country waste than suffer the nation to be murdered. Better depopulate them, and plant a new race of freemen on their desolated and deserted fields, than suffer rebellion to triumph. 

   Such is the voice of the free people of the North. If our rulers prove equal to the wishes of the people, there will be no negotiation, no parley, no truce, until every rebel shall have laid down his arms, disbanded his organization, and submitted to the Government. The people are humane, and this is humanity.

   How can this great rebellion be suppressed? The first duty of every nation is self-preservation. Vattel says: 'The entire nation is obliged to maintain that association; and as their preservation depends on its continuance, it thence follows that every nation is obliged to preform the duty of self-preservation.' Every means in the power of the nation must be exhausted before that sacred duty is abandoned. We may regret the dissipation of the wealth of the nation; we may weep over the loss of friends who have patriotically sacrificed themselves in defense of their country; but who can bear to witness the funeral of the nation? 

   I know the formidable character of this rebellion. Passing over all preliminary discussions, it is evident that the belligerent parties have assumed their present position deliberately and firmly. The United States have declared through the Executive, the Congress, and the people, that there shall be no division of the Union; that there can be no two governments permitted within the limits of the United States; that there can be no peace until the rebels lay down their arms. The rebels, with equal solemnity and equal firmness, have declared that they will listen to no terms of peace which do not assume as the basis the independence of the southern confederacy.

   Honor, manhood, national and personal pride, to say nothing of patriotism, forbid that either party should yield except under the most overwhelming necessity. If the Government submits to the rebels, it loses its character, and ceases to be a Power among the nations of the earth.


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