Isaac Newton Morris was a two-term Democratic Representative from Illinois (1857-1861). I can find no picture of him, but I imagine that he must have looked very much like his father, Senator Thomas Morris of Ohio – a fearless bulldog of a man – for that is certainly the impression conveyed in a remarkable speech that Isaac Morris delivered in the House on January 16, 1861. His denunciations of and imprecations against the sinners and traitors against Union ring out like those of a Biblical prophet. The Republicans, Buchanan, the secessionists – no one is spared. He demands that Union men of all parties awaken and take action:
And judgment, he warns, is coming:
It is time, sir, that we should arouse. Men of America, why stand ye still? Arouse! Shake off your lethargy! All considerations of party should be lost with us, when our country is in danger. I am with every man who is for the Union, and against every man who is against it; and I am ready now to march up to our national altar, and swear: “The Union: it must be and shall be preserved, by the Eternal!” If its enemies bring war out of it, it must be so, though none would regret it more than myself.
Let disunion be consummated, and some of us will live to see the dark pall of death settle upon the “cotton states.” I wish the direful calamity could be averted, and pray it may be; but it will come as inevitably as destiny itself. When they venture into the Red sea, like Pharoah [sic] and his hosts, they will be overthrown; and instead of reaching the promised land, flowing with milk and honey, will only find bitter waters and the stinging of serpents.
But the most interesting part of his speech is his discussion of the pivotal importance of the Mississippi River to the northwest. The upper midwest, he warns, will never tolerate loss of its access to the sea. If a “foreign Power” takes control of the lower Mississippi, millions of northerners will rise, “and blood will flow like water:”
I live, sir, in the heart of the valley of the Upper Mississippi, and on the banks of that mighty river which rises in the far latitude of the north, and moves on with slow and silent grandeur to the sea, bearing upon its placid bosom our surplus productions. I live where the Democratic masses love the Union, and are conservative, and where the rights of all are respected.
But I tell the South, especially the inhabitants of the Lower Mississippi, that we already have, in its upper valley, ten million people, and that we never can, and we never will, consent to allow any foreign Power – and they will be foreign when they leave us – to retain possession and control of the mouth of that great highway of commerce. We do not wish to boast; we do not intend to threaten; but we do mean to protect ourselves.
Mr. Jefferson, in a letter to Mr. Livingston, when the latter was minister to France, upon that country repurchasing the Louisiana territory, in 1802, from Spain, instructed him to say to the French Government that it would never be allowed to occupy the mouth of the Mississippi. All trouble, however, of the ownership and occupancy by France was fortunately obviated by the purchase of the territory from Napoleon I, in 1803.
We of the upper valley view the matter just as Mr. Jefferson did; and will permit none others than ourselves to exercise ownership over that gateway to the oceans. The enemy that shall attempt to keep it from us will find an army opposing him far more numerous than any that ever besieged imperial Rome, and blood will flow like water.
This will be one of the results of disunion. Civil war between the North and the South will be another; and soon the whole land will be convulsed with discord and deadly strife, and clothed in the habiliments of woe.