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The Annual Message of the President

Brownson's Quarterly Review, January, 1852

The Annual Message of the President of the United States to both Houses of Congress. Washington, December 2, 1851.

It is but justice to President Fillmore to acknowledge that the view taken of his Message in a foregoing article is not the one generally taken, and that serious objections of an opposite character to ours have been urged by a portion of the press against it. There is no doubt that the Message professes to lay down a truly neutral policy as that of the government, and we will not take it upon ourselves to say, that the President does not mean to pursue snch policy in our relations with foreign states. But we must interpret his professions of neutrality by tha acts of the government in re­gard to the Hungarian Kossuth, and by Mr. Secretary Webster's famous letter of December, 1850, in reply to the Austrian Charge d'Affaires. We will not say that these professions are diplomatic rather than sincere, for that would not be respectful, but will say, that if they are sincere, the government understands neutrality in a very latitudinarian sense.
Of the simple interposition of the government, in concert with the Brit­ish cabinet, for the liberation of Kossuth, though indefensible on any prin­ciple of justice, humanity, or sound policy, we make no complaint; and of Kossuth we should have nothing to say, if he had, on his liberation, retired to private life, and abandoned his revolutionary projects. But the government has really let loose one of the most dangerous characters now living. The President knew in the outset that this man was a traitor, and one to whom it is a profanation to apply the term patriot; he knew before sending his Message to Congress that he was a turbulent spirit, that he would only abuse his liberty to stir up insurrections, to teach the people insubordination to their magistrates, and to renew his efforts to dismember all empire with which we profess to have relations of peace. He kuew this, for he had official information of Kossuth's conduct in the Mediter­ranean, - at Spezzia, at Marseilles, and on board the Mississippi, - con­duct which the government will not presume to deny was only too favor­ably represented in the communications in the public journals. The let­ters containing the official information have been seen and read on file in the Departments of State and the Navy at Washington. The President must have been aware of Kossuth's fraternization with the French Social­ists at Marseilles, and his insolent appeal to the French people against the French government, as well as his abuse of the President of France in his letter to the Mayor of Southampton; he could not have been ignorant of his speeches in England, all indicating his revolutionary purposes; and he had every reason to believe, that if he came to this country it would be, not. to make it his home, but to excite the enthusiasm of our people in behalf of the revolutionary movements in Europe, and through them, if possible, to induce the government to assist him in wresting Hungary from the house of Hapsburg. All this we must presume the President knew when writing his Message, and yet he orders him to be greeted on his arrival with a national salute, and officially recognizes him as Governor Kossuth, which is a virtual recognition of the Hungarian revolutionary government, commends him to Congress, and virtually asks for him an official reception by the nation. Now we are wholly unable to reconcile this with good faith to Austria, with whom we have treaties of peace and friendship, or with our professions of neutrality, repeated to weariness by the President and his Secretaries. We do not pretend that the Message recommends an armed intervention in the internal affairs of other countries;  we give it full credit for sincerity when it says, "Our mission is not to propagate our opinions, or to impose upon other countries our form of government, by artifice or force" " but we do maintain that it avows a propagandist policy, and a determination on the part of the government to use all its influence, short of armed intervention, to stir up the people in the several monar­chical states of Europe to rebel against their respective sovereigns, and to revolutionize by artifice and force t.hese several states for the sake of introducing a form of government similar to our own. Even in the paragraph in which he asserts the neutral policy of the government, the President implicitly asserts our institutions as the model for all the world, and virtu­ally denies that any state, not constituted on popular principles, is either independent or free. "Our mission," he says, "is to teach by example, and show by our success, moderation, and justice, the blessings of self ­government and the advantages of free institutions." Here is the avowal of a mission of propagandism, and the assumption that it is from us the nations are to learn the blessings of self government and the advantages of free institutions." Very modest! Self-government, applied to nations, has no intelligible meaning but that of national independence, that the na­tion governs itself, instead of being governed by a foreign nation or state; and so no nation has ever yet, except our own, been independent, or not subject to a foreign power! Free institutions, if they mean any thing, which is very doubtful, can mean only institutions which favor, protect, or secure freedom, that is, the freedom either of the ruler or the ruled; and so the world has to learn from us, a now people, but within the mem­ory of persons still living, the advantages of such institutions! What is this but denying in reality the lawfulness of all institutions but our own, and pronouncing all governments not framed like ours, usurpations, tyran­nics, despotisms; which whose will may lawfully attack and destroy, in the sacred name of freedom or humanity?  Undeniably, the President asserts that we have a mission, and that this mission is to teach the poor old world, which has blundered along somehow through six thousand years, the blessings of national independence and freedom, that is, to de­mocratize all governments. We are not to do this, indeed, by fleets and armies of our own, but by the force of public opinion; that is, by creating and sustaining in all monarchical states a public opinion strong enough to enable the subjects of those states successfully to rebel against their sov­ereigns, to overthrow by illegal violence and any amount of crime the monarchical order, and to institute in its place democracy.  We are not to use force ourselves, we are only to excite and encourage others to use it, and use it for propagating our opinions, or imposing upon other coun­tries our form of government. So our government is prudent, and chooses to make others fight its battles!
 "Let every people choose for itself, make and alter its politioal institutions to suit its own condition and convenience." Very well; but the right of a people to choose  itself, and to adopt such institutions as it judges best, is simply the right of governing itself, simply its national in­dependence, and it involves the right to maintain the institutions it has adopted, and to punish and repress by force whoever attempts in an illegal way to alter or change them. But this right yon deny when you proclaim the "sacred right of insurrection," teach that the people everywhere have the right by rebellion and revolution to overthrow the existing government for the purpose of introducing a new government modelled after your own. You in this deny the very right you pretend to concede, by asserting a contradictory, and, in your judgment, a paramount right. It is impossible for the President to reconcile a strictly neutral policy with his assertion of our "mission," and his recognition of our right to stir up and protect democratic rebellions and revolutions in other states. We need not tell him that to stir up the subjects of any state to revolt against its sovereign authority is forbidden by the laws of nations, and is a justifiable cause of war. Strict neutrality, under the present point of view, requires us to regard all independent nations, whatever their internal constitution, as standing on a footing of perfect equality, and to hold those who trans­gress the laws of any other independent nation criminal in the same sense as they are who in like manner and degree transgress our own laws. To receive or harbor the rebels against a friendly state, much more to caress and honor them, is an offence against the laws of nations, and the " x­tradition" clause introduced into the treaty of Washington hetween this country and Great Britain, for which it is pretended so much credit is due to Mr. Webster, is only a confirmation by treaty of what has always really been international law, only in later times it has been generally dis­regarded.

No doubt, our form of government is best for us, but that is all that the President has any right officially to say of it. Whether it is the best for other nations or not, they, not we, are the proper judges; and as they, through their supreme authority, for the most part determine against it, we are to presume in our relations with them that it is not. The Presi­dent must respect those forms of government which they adopt as the best for them. This is the fact that he has overlooked. What we wanted him to disclaim was not merely the intention of propagating our opinions "by artifice or force," but the intention of attempting to propagate them at all; while he firmly asserted, if the occasion required it, the legality of our own institutions for us, we wanted him to recognize heartily, at least so far as we have any relations with them, the legality of governments adopted by other nations, though different from our own, and to deny all right on our part to meddle with them, or to express our sympathy with those who seek to destroy them, although for the purpose of instituting popular forms of government in their place, This is what was due under the circum­stances to the monarchical states with whom we have treaties of peace and friendship, and would have been only a just and necessary admonition to our own citizens. But what he has said will he insufficient to reassure those states of our good faith, and will only tend to make our own citizens feel that they are free in their individual character to lahor in every way in their power to stir up rebellion and civil war in any foreign state they may wish to revolutionize.

But the President even intimates, that, in certain contingencies, the government will not confine itself to tho neutral policy it professes, all-defective as it is. "But," he says, "while we avow and maintain this neutral policy for ourselves, we are anxious to see the same forbearance on the part of other nations, whose forms of government are different from our own. The deep interest which we feel in the spread of liberal principles and the establishment of free governments, and the sympathy with which we witness every struggle against oppression, forbid that we should be indifferent to a case in which the strong arm of a foreign power is invo/wd to stifle public sentiment, and repress the spirit of freedom in any country." The President is not asserting mere abstract principles without reference to their application, but defining the policy of the government in relation to the actual state of things in Europe. In words, this policy does not sound very bad; but to judge of what it really is, we must ascertain what principles the President refers to as "liberal principles," and what sort of struggles he calls "struggles against oppression." The President must be presumed to be well acquainted with the present state of things in Europe. He knows, then, we must presume, that throughout all Europe there is a grand conspiracy, with its central government for the present in London, and its ramifications extending even to this conntry, -- a conspiracy organized avowedly for the purpose of revolutionizing by violence every monarchical, and indeed every legally constituted govemment in the civil­ized world. The supreme chief of this conspiracy is not Louis Kossuth, but Joseph Mazzini, an Italian refugee, who lately obtained in England a loan of ten millions for carrying out his revolutionary purposes, and whose agents, we are informed, are in the United States, organizing associations under his authority and that of his colleagues, and collecting funds in aid of the conspiracy. The conspirators of all countries are embraced in the same grand organization, under one and the same central junta, or rev­olutionary government. The President, no doubt, knows all this, and he further knows, - it would be disrespectful to him not to suppose it, - that this conspiracy is limited not merely against monarchy, but against all legit­imate authority, against all religion except an idolatrous worship of what is blasphemously called the GOD-PEOPLE or the PEOPLE-GOD, against all morality, all law, all onler, and indeed against society itself. These are the principles the President terms "liberal principles,"  and the struggle of this conspiracy to carry out their principles and realize their infamous purposes is what he terms a "struggle against oppression," It must be so, for this conspiracy embraces the whole revolutionary party we hear of in Europe, or to which the President can have any reference.

It is now easy to understand the President's neutral policy. On one side are the conspirators of all nations banded together, and moving in concert, as if directed by a single will, and on the other are the several governments, and the friends of society, civilization, and morality. It seems to be agreed on all hands, that during this 1852 the two parties are to meet in mortal combat, and decide on the battle-field the terrible questions at issue, and on which side victory will incline seems now, even to the most sanguine, to be a matter of doubt. Now the President's neutral poli­cy, as we understand it, is, that if in any particular nation the government is able to sustain itself, and to put down the rebels, and vindicate the rights of authority, we may regret it indeed, but arc not to deem it our duty to interfere to save our friends from this sad termination of their hopes; never­theless, we are to insist that the rebels shall have fair play, that they shall. have the moral inlluence of our countenance and of our loudly expressed sympathy, and that no third party shall he called in to assist in suppressing them. Austria may whip rebellious Hungary or any other of her prov­inces into submission, if she can; but she shall not call Russia in to help her to do it, and Russia is not to be sufiered to take part in the quarrel, even if invited by Austria. But suppose neither Russia nor Austria respects our anxiety on the subject, and pays no attention to our protests! The President says not what we shall do then, but that we shall resort to the"Anglo-Saxon alliance," and shout "England and America against the world," and thus our neutrality become armed intervention, is not im­possible. This in certain quarters seems to be contemplated, and possibly may take place, if Mr. Webster remains Secretary of State, and Lord Palmerston retains his place in the British cabinet.

Now we would most respectfully ask whence it comes that we are to he the second, or the huttle-holder, of universal Rebeldom? Wherefore is it that our government should be "anxious" for the success of rebels, traitors, assassins, conspirators against God and man? The President either knows the principles and character of the European revolutiunary party, or he does not. If he does not, he is inexcusably rash in espousing their cause, and expressing his official sympathy with them; if he does, as it is but decent respect to his official position to assume, then he hows that they are the cummon enemies of the human race, whose success would be the paralysis of religion, the destruction of civilization, the triumph of anarchy, and the return of barbarism. He must know this, and yet he gives them his oflicial sanction, and goes to the extremest verge of prudence in their defence!

In very deed are our statesmen mad?  Do they not see the suicidal policy they are adopting? Is not our government a government of laws, and can it subsist if the government itself teaches its subjects that to break the laws is no crime, and that to conspire to overthrow the supreme authority of a state is an heroic virtue that should call forth the praise of senates and the applause of admiring nations?  Is not treason a crime here as well as in Naples, in Rome, in Austria, in Russia, and was not the government, at the very moment the President was expressing his sympa­thy with foreign traitors, prosecuting men in Pennsylvania for treason?  And how will you be able to suppress treason at home if you declare it an heroic virtue abroad, and send out your public ships to import full cargoes of foreign traitors? If the European radical may conspire to overthrow the government of his country for what he calls liberty, why may not the Free-Soiler conspire to resist your Fugitive Slave Law, and to prevent a poor runaway negro from being sent back to slavery? Why shall the former here in this cuuntry be greeted with a national salute, and the lat­ter with a halter? Think you the people of these States who detest negro slavery will long respect the authority of the Federal government, if that government through its chief proclaims its sympathy with those who Con­spire against all law, and declares itself the natural protector of the trai­tors and rebels of all lands? Do not flatter yourself that your own govern­ment is not attacked as well as that of Austria or Russia by these Red Re­publican conspirators. You know they publicly disdain our Republic and declare it no better than a monarchy. Their programme embraces the de­struction of both the American and the French republics, and their German confederates in this country have published the list of changes that are to be introduced here, changes that would leave us scarcely the shadow of a government, and not the least conceivable security for person or property, for freedom of speech or freedom of conscience. The government, we must presume, knows this, and yet it takes the revolutionary movement under its special protection!

Then, again, we demand by what right the government protests against the supreme authority of a nation calling in a friendly power to assist it to put down a rebellion in its provinces, or among its subjects?  If you have a right to protest, you have a right to go further and enforce your protest, if you choose; and if you have a right to do that, the friendly power has no right to assist a neighbor to reduce his rebellious subjects to submission. Since when has a nation lost the right to ask the assistance of a friendly power in quelling a rebellion in its dominions?  Since when has it become contrary to the laws of nations for a friendly power to aid, at its request, a sovereign state struggling with its rebellious subjects? The laws of na­tions, indeed, as now interprcted, allow no intervention to prevent a nation from settling its constitution in its own way, save in the case of necessary self-defence; but they do allow, even yet, a foreign nation to intervene, at the request of the sovereign authority, in a dispute between it and its rebellious subjects, and to aid it in putting them down by armed force. There is no law that forbids a sovereign from invoking the assistance of a neighboring state in enforcing his rights upon his own subjects, and none that forbids the state invoked from granting the assistance required.

If tho President refers simply to the first sort of intervention, the intervention to prevent an independent nation, that. is, its supreme authority, from reforming or changing its institutions to suit itself, his declaration is idle bravado, for the sovereigns of Europe havo neither intervened nor shown any disposition to intcrvene in such a case, as witness France and Switzerland. If he refers to cascs of the second sort, he is wrong in prin­ciple, and attacks the rights of sovereign nations, The cases of interven­tion that have recently occurred are those of Hungary and Rome. Hun­gary, or rather a portion of Hungary, rebelled against its sovereign, made war on the Austrian empire, to which it was in law inseparably united, and Austria invited Russia to assist her in reducing it to subjection, and Russia did so. Hungary was not an independent nation, was not a complete state. The union of Hungary and Austria is not a personal union, that is, the union of two mutually independent states under a common sovereign. "The different states composing the Austrian monarchy," says Wheaton,* a respectable authority, "is a real union. The hereditary dominions of the house of Austria, the kingdoms of Hungary and Bohemia, the Lombardo-Venetian kingdom, and other states, are all indissolubly united under one sceptre, but with distinct fundamental laws and other political institutions." Hungary had neither the right to make war on the empire nor to separate from the empire. She owed, and her troops swore, alle­giance, not merely to the king of Hungary, but to the emperor of Austria. She was a rebellious province, and the emperor had a right to reduce her to subjection, and the intervention of Russia was simply that of a friendly power, called in to aid him in enforcing his rights. The case of Rome, on received principles of international law, even without reference to the claims of tho Pope as Head of the Church, was clearly within the rule. A set of foreigners, vagabonds, drove out the sovereign, and set up a gov­ernment of their own. At the request of the sovereign, France and the principal Catholic nations intervened, suppressed the usurping, or, if you please, the revolutionary government, and restored the legitimate sovereign' to his rights. Here was no intervention of one nation, at its own motion, in the affairs of another, but an intervention, as in the case of Hungary, at the request and by the authorization of the supreme authority of the state. Tho President has unhappily ovorlooked, in his zeal for rebels and traitors, the well-settled law of nations.

Moreover, the President is too one-sided; he allows intervention in favor of rebels. He protests against intervention in favor of the supreme authority of the state, but he does not protest against the intervention of the rebels of one country in aid of those of another.  Poles, Germans, Italians, Englishmen, and we know not but Frenchmen and Americans, intervened in favor of Hungarian rebels, and yet the President makes no complaint. Moreover, the President must be presumed to know thor­oughly the doctrines of his friends, for we cannot suppose he would press them to his official bosom as his dear and loving friends if not well ac­quainted with their principles. He knows, then, that they proclaim the Fraternity, the Solidarity, as Kossuth expresses it, of peoples. Now this means, in the doctrine of the sect, that revolutionists of all countries and nations make but one brotherhood, or are bound together in solido, all standing for each, and each for all. Wherever the standard of Rebellion is raised, the people of all nations have the right, and are bound, to flock around it and aid their brothers. This is what is meant by the brother­hood or the solidarity of the peoples, and Kossuth, by his free use of the word solidarity in his speeches, shows that he has been initiated into the mysteries of the sect. The President is not fair. If he allows the revo­lutionists of one country to intervene to assist the rebels in another, he must allow,  on the principle of fair play, the friends of law, order, religion, morality, and society, to intervene in favor of authority.

The fact is, that our government and our people have adopted principles which are wholly indefensible, and have justly forfeited the respect of the civ­ilized world, and even of the very revolutionists it has favored. Almost the first thing Kossuth did on setting his foot on our shores was to show his contempt for our government, and to tell the people that they, not it, are sovereign. His first lesson to us was that of mobocracy, contempt for constituted authorities, and the right of rebellion. This was precisely as it should be, and we trust that the visit of this illustrious chief of Hum­bug will not be without its service to us. We have been so long vo­ciferating "the sacred right of insurrection" and "the sovereignty of the people," that we have without suspecting it well nigh undermined the foundations of our own government, and made us in principle and almost in fact a nation of mobocrats. We have fallen to a fearful depth, and perhaps this new Genet will serve to recall us to the doctrines of Wash­ington, the Father of his Country. Already we see some symptoms of re­lenting on the part of the government, some indications that it is beginning to ask if it has not gone too far. Certain are we, that they who thought sympathy with foreign rebels and traitors would redound to their glory are doomed to be disappointed. We are sorry for Mr. Webster. He can never be President of the United States. We and our friends have hon­ored Mr. Fillmore for his firm stand in favor of the Union; but we can no longer contemplate his reelection as probable or as desirable. We may not, indeed, obtain a more worthy candidate, but we hope we may find one who is not in favor of an alliance with England for disturbing and revolu­tionizing every state that respects the Church of God. In a Presidential election no party can afford to lose the Catholic vote, and no party in favor of the "Anglo-Saxon alliance" can obtain that vote. We can support no man who does not give us assurances of his loyalty to the Union, and his respect for the rights of foreign nations. But if we must, after all, take a candidate of radical tendencies, we say, let him be a natural-born Radical, not a Whig turned Radical and Red Republican for the occasion.

As for Kossuth, we care not for him. He is not the man, unless we are greatly mistaken, to make any lasting impression upon Yankees. He is eloquent and clever, and,like all our modern revolutionists, has a great command of words, vulgarly termed  "the gift of the gab" ; but he is not a man of the higher order of intellect. He lacks the ingredient of downright honesty of purpose, has too much to say of himself, and wears his princi­ples quite too loosely. He will not elect our next President, nor induce us to engage in a war with either Austria or Russia. We shall have a good time with him, feast ourselves, have our own jollification, let him laugh a little at us in his sleeve while we laugh a good deal at him in ours, and then cast him off.