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CORRESPONDENCE between JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, Esquire, President of the UNITED STATES, and several Citizens of Massachusetts, concerning the Charge of a Design to dissolve the UNION alleged to have existed in that State. Boston: 1829.
We have placed at the head of this article the title of a pamphlet, which has drawn much attention and excited much feeling. But in so doing, we have not thought of reviewing the controversy to which it relates. Our work is devoted to the inculcation and defence of great principles, and we are anxious to keep it free from irritating personalities. We are resolved to contend earnestly for what we deem truth, but we wish no contest with individuals. We are aware that cases may exist, in which justice to persecuted virtue, or to a good but suffering cause, may bind us to take part in temporary controversies. We feel, however, no such obligation in the present instance. In the Correspondence, those whom we deem injured have vindicated themselves too effectually to need other defenders. The charge of a Northern plot for dismembering the country has been fairly met and triumphantly refuted. We violate, therefore, no duty, in following our inclinations,
and in leaving this controversy to those whom it immediately concerns. To prevent misapprehension, we will add, that in speaking of the charge which gave rise to the correspondence, as fully refuted, we mean not to accuse of wilful misrepresentation the individual by whom it was brought forward. We are not ignorant of the facility with which men deceive themselves, especially when their passions are inflamed. We mean not to deny, that Mr. Adams may imagine himself in possession of proofs which sustain his allegation; nor is it hard to explain the delusion. It is very possible, that twenty-five years ago, in a most agitated and convulsed state of the country, some among us questioned, wheth`er the national government was likely to accomplish the good which it had promised. It is very possible, that, in that season of exasperation, some rash spirits among the Federalists gave utterance to passionate invectives, and inconsiderate menaces; and we can very easily understand, how a mind, disposed to misconstrue the words and actions of ardent partisans, might, in the midst of such excitement, become haunted with suspicions and visionary conspiracies. We think it very creditable to our country, that, in passing through the stormy season of which we have spoken, it teemed with no more panics and inventions of secret treasons; that so few plots were feigned or feared. We exceedingly regret, that Mr. Adams has made it necessary to his reputation, to fasten a reproach of this nature on a portion of his fellowcitizens. We regret, not only for public reasons, but for his own sake, that, on retiring from office, he cannot promise himself the happiness of his predecessors, the happiness of a calm and dignified retirement from pub lic strife.
Our aim in the present article is to call the attention of our readers to a subject of great moment, which is directly brought before us by the Correspondence; we mean, the Importance of our National Union. This topic is one of transcendent and universal interest, and therefore deserves a place in a work devoted to the inculcation of those great principles, which involve the virtue and happiness of the community. In the discussion of such a topic, we shall of necessity recur to the events and struggles of the last thirty or forty years. But we shall do so, not for the purpose of reviving half-extinguished animosities, but in the hope of pointing out our danger as a nation, and of awakening a more enlightened attachment to our common country. We trust, that we claim for ourselves no singular virtue in saying, that we look back on the conflicts and revolutions of this period as on matters of history, and that we identify ourselves with them scarcely more than with events preceding our birth. It seems to us, that a good degree of impartiality in relation to this period, instead of requiring a high moral effort, is almost forced upon us by the circumstances of our times. Our age has been marked above all others by the suddenness, variety, and stupendousness of its revolutions. The events of centuries have been crowded into a single life. The history of the civilized world, since the bursting forth of the French Revolution, reminds us of one of the irregular dramas of Shakspeare, in which the incidents of a reign are compressed into an hour. Overwhelming changes have rushed upon one another too rapidly to give us time to comprehend them, and have been so multiplied as to exhaust our capacity of admiration. In consequence of this thronging and whirl of
events, the revolutions which we have witnessed seem to be thrown back, and to belong to a previous age. Our interest in them as contemporaries is diminished to a degree which excites our own wonder, and we think that we recall them with as little selfish partiality, as we experience on looking back on the transactions of past centuries. Perhaps we are deceived; but we can assure our readers, that we should not trust ourselves to speak as frankly as we may of the past, did we not believe, that our personal interest in it differs little from what we feel in other important periods of human history.
We have said, that our present topic is the importance of the Union, and we have selected it because it cannot, we apprehend, be too deeply impressed. No lesson should be written more indelibly on the hearts of our citizens. To secure to it the strong conviction witn which it ought to be received, we have thought that we might usefully insist on the chief good which the Union confers; and we are the more disposed to do this, because we are not sure that this subject is sufficiently understood, because we sometimes apprehend that the people are not aware of the most essential benefit which they derive from the confederation, but are looking to it for advantages which it cannot bestow, and are in danger of exposing it to hazard by expecting from it more than it can accomplish. Of all governments we may say, that the good which they promote is chiefly negative, and this is especially true of the federal institutions which bind these States together. Their highest function is, to avert evil. Nor let their efficiency on this account be disparaged. The highest political good, liberty, is negative. It is the removal of ob
structions. It is security from wrong. It confers no positive happiness, but opens a field in which the individual may achieve his happiness by his own unfettered powers. The great good of the Union we may express almost in a word. It preserves us from wasting and destroying one another. It preserves relations of peace among communities, which, if broken into separate nations, would be arrayed against one another in perpetual, merciless, and ruinous war. It indeed contributes to our defence against foreign states, but still more it defends us from one another. This we apprehend to be the chief boon of the Union, and its importance we apprehend is not sufficiently felt. So highly do we estimate it, that we ask nothing of the General Government, but to hold us together, to establish among the different States relations of friendship and peace; and we are sure, that our State Governments and individual energies will work out for us a happiness, such as no other people have yet secured.
The importance of this benefit is easy to be understood, by considering the sure and tremendous miseries which would follow disunion. For ourselves, we fear, that, bloody and mournful as human history now is, a sadder page, than has yet been written, might record the sufferings of this country, should we divide ourselves into separate communities. Our impressions on this subject are so strong, that we cannot resist the desire of communicating them to others. We fear that our country, in case of disunion, would be broken into communities, which would cherish towards one another singularly fierce and implacable enmities. We do not refer to the angry and vindictive feelings which would grow out of the struggles implied in a separation. There