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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Attitude of South Carolina

By Henry Clay (1777–1852)

[First Speech on the Compromise Tariff Bill. 1833.—The Life and Speeches of Henry Clay. 1843.]

SOUTH CAROLINA must perceive the embarrassments of her situation. She must be desirous—it is unnatural to suppose that she is not—to remain in the Union. What! a State whose heroes in its gallant ancestry fought so many glorious battles along with those of the other States of this Union—a State with which this confederacy is linked by bonds of such a powerful character! I have sometimes fancied what would be her condition if she goes out of this Union; if her five hundred thousand people should at once be thrown upon their own resources. She is out of the Union. What is the consequence? She is an independent power. What then does she do? She must have armies and fleets, and an expensive government; have foreign missions; she must raise taxes; enact this very tariff, which has driven her out of the Union, in order to enable her to raise money, and to sustain the attitude of an independent power. If she should have no force, no navy to protect her, she would be exposed to piratical incursions. Their neighbor, St. Domingo, might pour down a horde of pirates on her borders, and desolate her plantations. She must have her embassies; therefore must she have a revenue. And, let me tell you, there is another consequence, an inevitable one; she has a certain description of persons recognized as property south of the Potomac, and west of the Mississippi, which, would be no longer recognized as such, except within their own limits. This species of property would sink to one-half of its present value, for it is Louisiana and the south-western States which are her great market….

If there be any who want civil war, who want to see the blood of any portion of our countrymen spilt, I am not one of them. I wish to see war of no kind; but, above all, I do not desire to see a civil war. When war begins, whether civil or foreign, no human sight is competent to foresee when, or how, or where it is to terminate. But when a civil war shall be lighted up in the bosom of our own happy land, and armies are marching, and commanders are winning their victories, and fleets are in motion on our coast, tell me, if you can, tell me, if any human being can tell, its duration. God alone knows where such a war would end. In what a state will our institutions be left? In what state our liberties? I want no war; above all, no war at home.

Sir, I repeat, that I think South Carolina has been rash, intemperate, and greatly in the wrong; but I do not want to disgrace her, nor any other member of this Union. No: I do not desire to see the lustre of one single star dimmed of that glorious confederacy which constitutes our political sun; still less do I wish to see it blotted out, and its light obliterated forever. Has not the State of South Carolina been one of the members of this Union in “days that tried men’s souls?” Have not her ancestors fought alongside our ancestors? Have we not, conjointly, won together many a glorious battle? If we had to go into a civil war with such a State, how would it terminate? Whenever it should have terminated, what would be her condition? If she should ever return to the Union, what would be the condition of her feelings and affections? what the state of the heart of her people? She has been with us before, when her ancestors mingled in the throng of battle, and as I hope our posterity will mingle with hers, for ages and centuries to come, in the united defence of liberty, and for the honor and glory of the Union; I do not wish to see her degraded or defaced as a member of this confederacy.

In conclusion, allow me to entreat and implore each individual member of this body to bring into the consideration of this measure, which I have had the honor of proposing, the same love of country which, if I know myself, has actuated me, and the same desire of restoring harmony to the Union, which has prompted this effort. If we can forget for a moment—but that would be asking too much of human nature—if we could suffer, for one moment, party feelings and party causes—and, as I stand here before my God, I declare I have looked beyond those considerations, and regarded only the vast interests of this united people—I should hope, that under such feelings, and with such dispositions, we may advantageously proceed to the consideration of this bill, and heal, before they are yet bleeding, the wounds of our distracted country.