“Federal vs. Legislative,” The Globe (9 July 1864)

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Date: 1864-07-09
By: The Globe
Citation: “Federal vs. Legislative”, The Globe [Toronto] (9 July 1864).
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A contemporary argues that under a federal form of government the tendency to dissensions and sectional antagonisms would not be at all lessened. For proof we are asked to look at the system in the United States, and the dissensions in reference to slavery which have there led to a civil war. In reply, we beg to inquire how long it is likely that the Government at Washington would have held together if the union had been simply a legislative character. Had the Congress, which under the existing constitution is charged only with the regulation of general matters, been charged with the management of local matters as well, the outburst of the present day must have come half a century ago. Did the same Legislature have control of the local affairs of Massachesetts and South Carolina, we can hardly conceive of its getting along peaceably though a single session. The war of sections which the aggressions of the slaveholders did in the end produce, has been delayed only by the arrangement which as far as possible kept “the peculiar institution” out of the national Congress. The radical diversity of the systems of free and slave labour, however, proved too much even for the safety-valve of deputing local matters to local control. It was impossible that the two peoples – the one a community of man-owners and traffickers in human flesh, and the other a free community, whose conscience could not slumber always, but must be roused sooner or later to a resistance of pro-slavery aggressions – could work even the msot loosely-bound federation forever. The differences upon questions of trade – upon questions of agricultural against commercial interest, and the like, sank into utter insignificance by the side of the antagonism which arose between the barbarism of slave-holding and the freedom of the social system of the North. The wonder is not that the same general government failed to keep these two peoples together in peace for three generations. The surprise should rather be that differences so fundamental did not bring on the crisis before the colleagues of Washington had passed from earth. That for nearly ninety years a country – one half slave-holding and the other half “free soil” – was able to “work” the machinery of a federative system of government is really a very high proof of the adaptability of that system to the circumstances of a country made up of antagonistic communities. The worst enemy of Canada cannot pretend that – grave as her sectional difficulties undoubtedly are – she has any element of discord which will subject her proposed “federation” to any such test as that to which slavery has subjected the federation of our neighbours. We have our causes of sectional difficulties, and they have wrought us much trouble; but the whole of them are infinitely less formidable as disturbing elements, than “the sum of human villanies” which has proved so dreadful a curse to the United States. If one of these Provinces were in the hands of a slaveholding oligarchy, determined upon using the Union in the interest of its “peculiar institution” – determined upon forcing the free people fo the other to become its slave-catchers – and determine upon extending its blighting system of bondage into the great North-West country – then, indeed, we shoud despair of working a federative, or any other form of union satisfactorily, but happily our circumstances are far different.

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