Springfield, April 23, 1861.
GENTLEMEN — The constitution authorizes me on extraordinary occasions to convene the legislature in special session. Certainly no occasion could have arisen more extraordinary than the one which is now presented to us. A plan conceived and cherished by some able but misguided statesmen of the southern states for many years past, founded upon an inadmissible and destructive interpretation of our national constitution, considered until very recently as merely visionary, has been partially carried into practical execution by ambitious and restless leaders, to the great peril of our noble Union, of our democratic institutions and of our public and private prosperity.
The popular discontent, consequent inevitably upon a warmly contested presidential election, which heretofore has always soon subsided amongst a people having the profoundest respect for their self-imposed laws, and bowing respectfully before the majesty of the popular will, constitutionally expressed; this discontent was in this instance artfully seized upon, and before there was time for the angry passions to subside, one state after another was precipitated out of the Union by a machinery, wanting in most instances, the sanction of the people in the seceding states.
No previous effort was made by the disloyal states to procure redress for supposed grievances. Impelled by bold and sagacious leaders, disunionists at heart, they spurned in advance all proffers of compromise. The property of the Union, its forts and arsenals, costing the people of all the states enormous sums of money, were seized with a strong hand. Our noble flag, which had protected the now seceding portions of the confederacy within its ample folds in their infancy, and which is the pride of every true and loyal American heart, and which had become respected and revered throughout the world as the symbol of democracy and liberty, was insulted and trampled in the dust.
All this time the federal government, intent upon peace, trusting that forbearance would restore friendly relations and remove the alienations founded upon delusive apprehensions of aggressions upon southern rights, exhibited an indulgence and toleration of wrong and insult from our erring brethren unparalleled in the history of nations. No impediment was thrown in the way of men who had openly disowned and treasonably defied their government. Their mail facilities and commerce were not interrupted. The utmost liberty of speech and the press were tolerated, allowing them with impunity to express their views in all the loyal states.
They had uninterrupted ingress and egress, and were permitted to mingle with the citizens of all the other states without molestation, and to disseminate their doctrines everywhere. The action of the government was confined to a passive resistance, and to the holding, occupying and possessing the property of the United States. Invasion was not only not threatened, but distinctly disavowed, both by the former and present administrations.
In the meantime, strenuous efforts were made by Union men in the border states, and in the free states, to bring about a reconciliation. Congress proposed by a decided vote an amendment to the constitution, by which all apprehension of an interference with the domestic institutions of any state, was to be quieted by giving to the universally prevailing sentiment of such non-interference the highest constitutional sanction. Territorial bills were passed, which did not contain any assertion on the part of congress of the right to prohibit slavery in the territories, so that the perplexing territorial question, as regards the institution of slavery, was virtually set at rest.
A conference of commissioners, at the instance of the commonwealth of Virginia, was held at the capital, attended by nearly all the border states and all the free states, with but one or two exceptions. Propositions of a highly conciliatory character were adopted by a majority of the free states represented in said conference; but before congress had even time to consider them, they were denounced by leading men in the border states, and by almost every one of their members of congress, as unsatisfactory and inadmissible, though they met the approval of the best patriots and of the mass of the people in the border states. The seceded states treated them with the utmost contempt. That, under such circumstances, and when no practical object could be obtained, the representatives of the free states declined to adopt them, is no matter of surprise.
A proposition first made by the legislature of Kentucky, for the call of a national constitutional convention, as provided in the constitution for the redress of all grievances, undoubtedly the best and surest mode of settling all difficulties, was responded to by Illinois, and by many other free states, and such a convention was definitely recommended by the present administration on its advent to the government. Enough has been done by the border and free states to satisfy every rational mind that the south would have nothing to fear from any measures to be passed by congress, or even by any of the state legislatures.
Public sentiment was everywhere, in the free states, for peace and compromise. No better proof could be required than the facts I have stated, that the conspiracy, which has now assumed such formidable dimensions, and which is threatening the destruction of the fairest fabric of human wisdom and human liberty, is of long standing, and is wholly independent of the election of a particular person to the presidential office, than the manner in which the seceded states have acted toward their loyal brethren of the south and north since they have entered upon their criminal enterprise. We must do them, however, the justice to say, that all their public documents, and all the speeches of their controlling leaders, candidly admit that the presidential election has not been the cause for their action, and that they were impelled by far different motives.
So forbearing and pacific has been the policy of the federal government — anxiously hoping for a return to reason in the minds of our southern brethren — that they were suffered to erect their batteries in the jaws of our guns at Sumter — finally losing to us that strong fortress by the most unexampled forbearance and reluctance to the shedding the blood of our countrymen. And a simple attempt, on the part of our constitutional government, to provision a starving garrison in one of our forts, of which the revolutionary authorities had received official notice from the government, has been made the occasion for a destructive bombardment of that fort. Overpowered by numbers our gallant men had to lower our glorious flag, and to surrender on terms dictated by rebels.
The spirit of a brave and free people is aroused at last. Upon the first call of the constitutional government they are rushing to arms. Fully justified in the eyes of the world and in the light of history, they have resolved to save the government of our fathers, to preserve the Union so dear by a thousand memories and promising so much of happiness to them and their children, and to bear aloft the flag which for eighty-five years has gladdened the hearts of the struggling free on every continent, island and sea, under the whole heavens. Our own noble state, as of yore, has responded in a voice of thunder. The entire mass is alive to the crisis. If, in Mexico, our Hardin and Shields, and Bissel and Baker, and their gallant comrades, were found closest to their colors, and in the thickest of the fight, and shed imperishable lustre upon the fame and glory of Illinois, now that the struggle is for our very nationality, and for the stars and stripes, her every son will be a soldier and bare his breast to the storm of battle.
The attack upon Fort Sumter produced a most startling transformation on the northern mind, and awaken a sleeping giant, and served to show, as no other event in all the history of the past ever did, the deep-seated fervor and affection with which our whole people regard our glorious Union. Party distinctions vanished, as a mist, in a single night, as if by magic; and parties and party platforms were swept as a morning dream from the mind of men; and now men of all parties, by thousands, are begging for places in the ranks. The blood of twenty millions of freemen boils, with cauldron heat, to replace our national flag upon the very walls whence it was insulted and by traitor hands pulled down. Every village and hamlet resounds with beat of drum and clangor of arms. Three hundred thousand men wait the click of the wires for marching orders, and all the giant energies of the northwest are at the command of the government. These who have supposed that the people of the free states will not fight for the integrity of the Union, and that they will suffer another government to be carved out of the boundaries of this Union, have hugged a fatal delusion to their bosoms, for our people will wade through seas of blood before they will see a single star or a solitary stripe erased from the glorious flag of our Union.
The service already tendered me, in my efforts to organize troops, provide means, arms and provisions, by distinguished members of the party, hitherto opposed to me in political sentiments, are beyond all praise, and are, by me, in behalf of the state, most cheerfully acknowledged. There are now more companies received than are needed under the presidential call, and almost unlimited numbers have formed and are forming, awaiting further orders. A single inland county (La Salle) tenders nine full companies, and our principal city (Chicago) has responded with contributions of men and money worthy of her fame for public spirit and patriotic devotion. Nearly a million of money has been offered to the state; as a loan, by our patriotic capitalists and other private citizens, to pay the expenses connected with the raising of our state troops and temporarily providing for them.
Civil war, it must be confessed, is one of the greatest calamities which can befall a people. And such a war. It is said, "when Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war." When American shall meet American — when the fiery, impetuous valor of the south shall come in contact with the cool, determined bravery of the north, then blood will flow to the horses' bridles. Would that the calamity might be averted! But the destruction of our government is a far greater evil. A government which is the hope of the world — promising more of happiness to us and our children, and the millions who come after us, and to the struggling free in every land, than any government ever invented by man, must not, shall not be destroyed.
A government that submits to peaceable secession, signs its own death warrant. What would be left of our Union? No matter how many states it might, for the present, still compromise — this would give us not a moment's guarantee against further dissolution, if the right to secede once were peaceably tolerated. Government is established for the protection of rights and property, and when built upon the principle of voluntary dissolution, it ceases to furnish that protection; it ceases to be a government under which national men can live.
We draw the sword then, not in a spirit of indignation and revenge, but clearly and unmistakably in self defense, and in the protection of our own rights, our liberty and security, for our property, in a word, for the nearest and dearest of ourselves and our posterity. I have thus spoken, because an impression may still prevail in the minds of some, that this conflict was one of our own seeking, and one which might have been avoided without any imminent danger to the yet loyal parts of the country. — This is not so. Secession has brought about its inevitable results, and we must crush it and treason, wherever they raise their unsightly heads, or perish ourselves.
In this sudden emergency, when the call was made by the national government, I found myself greatly embarrassed, by what still remains on our statute book, as a militia law, and by the entire want of organization of our military force. A great portion of this law has grown entirely obsolete, and cannot be carried out, and moreover is in conflict with the instructions of the war department, which latter are based on the various military laws of the United States now in force. But as far as possible, I have made an effort to keep within the provisions of our law.
I have to call your attention most emphatically to the enactment of a practicable militia law, as recommended in my inaugural address, which should recognize the principle of volunteering as one of its most prominent features. It ought to be plain and intelligible as well as concise and comprehensive. It ought to provide for many emergencies and future contingencies, and not for the present moment alone. I trust that our conflict will not be a protracted one; but if it unfortunately should be, we may well expect that what is now done by enthusiasm and in the first effervescence of popular excitement, may hereafter have to be done by a stern sense of duty, to be regulated by an equally stern law. Trials may come, which can only be met by endurance and patient performance of prescribed duty.
I deem the passage of a well digested militia law the more necessary, as it seems to me, that the present levy of troops, which will soon pass under the control of the general government, is insufficient to protect our state against threatened invasion, and such commotions as frequently follow in the train of war I would recommend to keep an active militia force, consisting of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, for some time to come, at least; also a reserve force for protection against dangers of any kind, and for the purpose of readily complying from time to time, with the requisitions of the general government.
It is for you, representatives of the people, if you coincide with my views in this respect, to pass the proper laws to accomplish the objects recommended to your most earnest consideration.
In the organization of troops, the collecting of provisions and arms and munitions of war, preparing a camp, employing various agents to carry out the orders which had to be given for these purposes, some expenses have been already incurred, which cannot be met by the contingent fund, which you are aware is a very limited one. The expenditures which will have to be made before our troops are mustered into the service of the United States, though they will all be refunded by virtue of the now existing laws of congress, and consequently will not burthen our treasury ultimately, will have to be borne for the present by us. Should you, as I earnestly hope, provide for an active force of militia, to be kept up for a time to be limited by your wisdom, a considerable expenditure will have to be provided for by a loan, the taking of which is already secured by the generous, patriotic and ample tenders of our own fellow-citizens.
To this end, I recommend the appropriation by the legislature of a sum not exceeding three millions of dollars; so much of which only is to be expended as the public exigencies may require: and I would further recommend that a law be passed authorizing the governor to accept the services often regiments, in addition to those already called out by the general government.
Though the constitution has very properly restricted the contracting of a public debt in all ordinary cases, it has, with commendable foresight, provided for cases of emergency such as the present, in allowing loans to be made "for the purpose of repelling invasions, suppressing insurrections, or defending the state in war" I invite you to a prompt action on this all important subject, and feel no hesitation that you will come forward with a zeal and alacrity, in providing ample means for the present emergency, corresponding to the devotion of our people to their sacred honor and their glorious flag.
It has come to my knowledge that there are several thousand stand of arms scattered over the state, which are, however, not of the most approved construction, and need to be exchanged for others, or to be provided with the more modern appliances to make them serviceable. I have already instituted means to have these collected at the state armory at the capital, and what disposition shall be made of them is respectfully submitted to your consideration.
Other measures may be necessary by you for the purpose of lending efficient assistance to the general government in preserving the Union, enforcing the laws, and protecting the rights and property of the people, which I must leave to your judgment and wisdom. As one of such measures, however, I recommend the propriety of passing a law restraining the telegraph in our state from receiving and transmitting any messages, the object of which shall be to encourage a violation of the laws in this state or the United States, and to refuse all messages in cypher, except when they are sent by the state or national authorities, or citizens known to be loyal.
And now, as we love our common country, in all its parts, with all its blessings of climate and culture; its mountains, valleys and streams; as we cherish its history and the memory of the world's only Washington; as we love our free civilization, striking its roots deep down into those principle of truth and justice eternal as God; as we love our government so free, our institutions so noble, our boundaries so broad, as we love our grand old flag, "sign of the free heart's only home," that is cheered and hailed in every sea and haven of the world, let us resolve that we will preserve the Union and these institutions, and that there shall be no peace till the traitorous and bloodless palmetto shall be hurled from the battlements of Sumter, and the star spangled banner in its stead wave defiantly in the face of traitors, with every star and every stripe flaming from all its ample folds.
Gentlemen, I commend the destiny of our noble and Gallant state, in this hour of its peril, to your wise and patriotic deliberations and prudent and determinate action. May the God of our fathers, who guided our Washington throughout the trying scenes of the revolution, and gave to our fathers strength to build up our sacred Union, and to frame a government, which has been the center of our affections and the admiration of the world, be still with us, and preserve our country from destruction.
In the firm belief, that we are in the hands of a Supreme ruling power, whose will is wisdom, let us manfully maintain our rights and our constitution and Union to the last extremity. Let us so act that our rights and our constitution and Union to the last extremity. Let us so act that our children and childrens' children, when we are laid in the dust, will hold us in grateful remembrance, and will bless our memories, as we do now bless the heroes and patriots who achieved our independence, and transmitted to us the priceless heritage of American liberty.