One of the sayings quoted from Washington during these weeks was the answer given by Count Gurowski to the inquiry, “Is there anything in addition this morning?” “No,” said Gurowski, “it is all in subtraction.”
By the day of the inaugural, the secession of seven States was an accomplished fact and the government of the Confederacy had already been organised in Montgomery. Alexander H. Stephens had so far modified his original position that he had accepted the post of Vice-President and in his own inaugural address had used the phrase, “Slavery is the corner-stone of our new nation,” a phrase that was to make much mischief in Europe for the hopes of the new Confederacy.
In the first inaugural, one of the great addresses in a noteworthy series, Lincoln presented to the attention of the leaders of the South certain very trenchant arguments against the wisdom of their course. He says of secession for the purpose of preserving the institution of slavery:
“You complain that under the government of the United States your slaves have from time to time escaped across your borders and have not been returned to you. Their value as property has been lessened by the fact that adjoining your Slave States were certain States inhabited by people who did not believe in your institution. How is this condition going to be changed by war even under the assumption that the war may be successful in securing your independence? Your slave territory will still adjoin territory inhabited by free men who are inimical to your institution; but these men will no longer be bound by any of the restrictions which have obtained under the Constitution. They will not have to give consideration to the rights of slave-owners who are fellow-citizens. Your slaves will escape as before and you will have no measure of redress. Your indignation may produce further wars, but the wars can but have the same result until finally, after indefinite loss of life and of resources, the institution will have been hammered out of existence by the inevitable conditions of existing civilisation.”
Lincoln points out further in this same address the difference between his responsibilities and those of the Southern leaders who are organising for war. “You,” he says, “have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy this government, while I have the most solemn oath to preserve, direct, and defend it.”
“It was not necessary,” says Lincoln, “for the Constitution to contain any provision expressly forbidding the disintegration of the state; perpetuity and the right to maintain self-existence will be considered as a fundamental law of all national government. If the theory be accepted that the United States was an association or federation of communities, the creation or continued existence of such federation must rest upon contract; and before such contract can be rescinded, the consent is required of both or of all