NIAGARA FALLS, CANADA WEST,
July 15, 1863.
To the Democracy of Ohio:
Arrested and confined for three weeks in the United States, a prisoner of state; banished thence to the Confederate States, and there held as an alien enemy and prisoner of war, though on parole, fairly and honorably dealt with and given leave to depart — an act possible only by running the blockade at the hazard of being fired on by ships flying the flag of my own country — I found myself first a freeman when on British soil. And to-day, under protection of the British flag, I am here to enjoy, and in part to exercise, the privileges and rights which usurpers insolently deny me at home. The shallow contrivance of the weak despots at Washington, and their advisers, has been defeated. Nay, it has been turned against them; and I, who for two years was maligned as in secret league with the confederates, having refused when in their midst, under circumstances the most favorable, either to identify myself with their cause or even so much as to remain, preferring rather exile in a foreign land, return now with allegiance to my own state and government, unbroken in word, thought or deed, and with every declaration and pledge to you while at home, and before I was stolen away, made good in spirit and to the very letter.
Six weeks ago, when jest going into banishment, because an audacious but most cowardly despotism compelled it, I addressed you as a fellow-citizen. To-day, and from the very place then selected by me, but after wearisome and most perilous journeyings for more than four thousand miles by land and upon the sea — still in exile, though almost in sight of my native state — I greet you as your representative. Grateful certainly I am for the confidence in my integrity and patriotism implied by the unanimous nomination as candidate for governor of Ohio which you gave me while I was yet in the Confederate States. It was not misplaced; it shall never be abused. But this is the least of all considerations in times like these. I ask no personal sympathy, for the personal wrong. No, it is the cause of constitutional liberty and private right cruelly outraged beyond example in a free country, by the president and his servants, which gives public significancy to the action of your convention. Yours was indeed an act of justice to a citizen who for his devotion to the rights of the states and the liberties of the people, had been marked for destruction by the hand of arbitrary power. But it was much more. It was an act of courage worthy of the heroic ages of the world; and it was a spectacle and a rebuke to the usurping tyrants who, having broken up the Union, would now strike down the constitution, subvert your present government, and establish a formal and proclaimed despotism in its stead. You are the RESTORERES AND DEFENDERS OF CONSTITUTIONAL LIBERTY, and by that proud title history will salute you.
I congratulate you upon your nominations. They whom you have placed upon the ticket with me are gentlemen of character, integrity, ability, and of tried fidelity to the constitution, the Union and to liberty. Their moral and political courage — a quality always rare, and now the most valuable of public virtues — is beyond question. Every way, all these were nominations fit to be made. And even jealously, I am sure, will now be hushed, if I especially rejoice with you in the nomination of Mr. Pugh as your candidate for lieutenant governor and president of the senate. A scholar and a gentleman, a soldier in a foreign war, and always a patriot; eminent as a lawyer, and distinguished as an orator and a statesman, I hail his acceptance as an omen of the return of the better and more virtuous days of the republic.
I indorse your noble platform — elegant in style, admirable in sentiment. You present the true issue, and commit yourselves to the great mission just now of the democratic party, — to restore and make sure first the rights and liberties declared yours by your constitutions. It is in vain to invite the states and people of the south to return to a Union without a constitution, and dishonored and polluted by repeated and most aggravated exertions of tyrannic power. It is base in yourselves, and treasonable to your posterity, to surrender these liberties and rights to the creatures whom your own breath created and can destroy. Shall there be free speech, a free press, peaceable assemblages of the people, and a free ballot any longer in Ohio? Shall the people hereafter, as hitherto, have the right to discuss and condemn the principles and policy of the party — the ministry — the men who, for the time, conduct the government, — to demand of their public servants a reckoning of their stewarship, and to place other men and another party in power at their supreme will and pleasure? Shall order thirty-eight or the constitution be the supreme law of the land? And shall the citizen any more be arrested by an armed soldiery at midnight; dragged from wife and child and home, to a military prison; thence to a mock military trial; there condemned, and then banished as a felon for the exercise of his rights? This is the issue; you have noble met it. It is the very qustion of free, popular government itself. It is the whole question: upon one side liberty, on the other despotism. The president, as the recognized head of his party, accepts the issue. Whatever he wills, that is law. Constitutions, state and federal, are nothing; acts of legislation nothing; the judiciary less than nothing. In time of war there is but one will supreme — his will; but one law — military necessity, and he the sole judge. Military orders supersede the constitution, and military commissions usurp the places of ordinary courts of justice in the land. Nor are these mere idle claims. For two years and more, by arms, they have been enforced. It was the mission of the weak but presumptuous Burnside — a name infamous forever in the ears of all lovers of constitutional liberty — to try the experiment in Ohio, aided by a judge whom I name not, because he has brought foul dishonor upon the judiciary of my country. In your hands now, men of Ohio, is the final issue of the experiment. The party of the administration have accepted it. By pledging support to the president, they have justified his outrages upon liberty and the constitution; and whoever gives his vote for the candidates of that party commits himself to every act of violence and wrong on the part of the administration which he upholds; and thus, by the law of retaliation, which is the law of might, would fairly forfeit his own right of liberty, personal and political, whensoever other men and another party shall hold the power. Much more do the candidates themselves. Suffer them not, I entreat you, to evade the issue; and by the judgment of the people we will abide.
And now, finally, let me ask, what is the pretext for all the monstrous acts and claims of arbitrary power which you have so boldly and nobly denounced? "Military necessity." But if indeed, all these be demanded by military necessity, then, believe me, your liberties are gone, and tyranny is perpetual. For, if this civil war is to terminate only by the subjugation or submission of the south to force and arms, the infant to-day will not live to see the end of it. No, in another way only can it be brought to a close. Traveling a thousand miles and more, through nearly one-half of the Confederate States, and sojourning for a time at widely different points, I met not one man, woman or child, who was not resolved to perish rather than yield to the pressure of arms, even in the most desperate extremity. And, whatever may and must be the varying fortune of the war in all which I recognize the hand of Providence pointing visibly to the ultimate issue of this great trial of the states and people of America, they are better prepared now every way to make good their inexorable purpose than at any period since the beginning of the struggle. These may, indeed, be unwelcome truths, but they are addressed only to candid and honest men. Neither, however, let me add, did I meet any one, whatever his opinions or his station, political or private, who did not declare his readiness, when the war shall have ceased and invading armies been withdrawn, to consider and discuss the question of re-union. And who shall doubt the issue of the argument? I return, therefore, with my opinions and convictions as to war and peace, and my faith as to final results, from sound policy and wise statesmanship, not only unchanged, but confirmed and strengthened. And may the God of heaven and earth so rule the hearts and minds of Americans everywhere that a constitution maintained, a Union restored, and liberty henceforth made secure, a grander and nobler destiny shall yet be ours than that even which blessed our fathers in the first two ages of the republic.
C. L. VALLANDIGHAM.