Many thought William H. Seward’s “higher law” speech treasonous as it claimed something that superseded the United States Constitution – the compact agreed to by all the States as the law of the land. In reality, the abolitionists who sought a separation from what they referred to as “a covenant with Hell,” and unstable theorists like Seward, were the disunionists in 1860.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Higher Law Treason
“[Future President] Franklin Pierce addressed a Union meeting in Manchester [New Hampshire] in November 1850. His speech reveals his true sentiments on the most important issue of his time. When several Baptist ministers “hissed” at his remarks in favor of the Union, Pierce responded that the “feeble demonstration of moral treason to the Union, to humanity, to the cause of civil liberty would disturb neither him nor the meeting.” He declared, “If we are precipitated into a war by fanaticism, we cannot conquer. Both sections of the country may be immolated. Neither could come out of the contest short of ruin.”
Pierce was consistent in believing the preservation of the Union was more important than any one issue. The New Hampshire Patriot reported Pierce’s speech: “Who did not deplore slavery? But what sound-thinking mind regarded that as the only evil which could rest upon the land? The [abolitionist] men who would dissolve the Union did not deplore slavery any more than he did . . . The resort to disunion as an experiment to get rid of a political evil, would be about as wise as if a man were to think of remedying a broken arm by cutting his head off.” Pierce closed with the shout, “The Union! Eternal Union!”
When Senator Seward of New York followed [Daniel] Webster’s [7 March 1850] speech with one in which he declared that there is a “higher law” than the Constitution and that God was opposed to slavery, the Patriot editorialized, “If Mr. Seward’s doctrine were to be endorsed by the people at large there would be an end not only of the Union but of every rational form of government”. . . Webster would later call the “higher law” doctrine “Treason, treason, treason!”
(Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire’s Favorite Son, Peter A. Wallner, Plaidswede Publishing, 2004, pp. 168-169)