The Great American Crisis
THE GREAT AMERICAN CRISIS.
Stephen Pearl Andrews
The American crisis, actual and impending; the causes which have led to it through the years that have passed; the consequences which must flow from it; the new responsibilities which it devolves on us as a people in the practical sphere; the new theoretical problems which it forces upon our consideration—everything, in fine, which concerns it, constitutes it a subject of the most momentous importance. The greatest experiment ever yet instituted to bring the progress of humanity to a higher plane of development is being worked out on this continent and in this age; and the war now progressing between the Northern and the Southern States is, in a marked sense, the acme and critical ordeal to which that experiment is brought.
First in order, in any methodical consideration of the subject, is the question of the causes which have led to this open outburst of collision and antagonism between the two great sections of a common country, whose institutions have hitherto been—with one remarkable exception—so similar as to be almost identical. Look at the subject as we will, the fact reveals itself more and more that the one exception alluded to is the ‘head and front of this offending,’ the heart and core of this gigantic difficulty, the one and sole cause of the desperate attempt now being waged to disturb and break up the process of experiment, otherwise so peacefully and harmoniously progressing, in favor of the freedom of man. There is no possibility of grappling rightly with the difficulty itself, unless we understand to the bottom the nature of the disease.
When the question is considered of the causes of the present war, the superficial and incidental features of the subject—the mere symptoms of the development of the deep-seated affection in the central constitution of our national life—are firstly observed. Some men perceive that the South were disaffected by the election of Abraham Lincoln and the success of the Republican party, and see no farther than this. Some see that the Northern philanthropists had persisted in the agitation of the subject of slavery, and that this persistency had so provoked and agitated the minds of Southern men that their feelings had become heated and irritated, and that they were ready for any rash and unadvised step. Others see the causes of the war in the prevalence of ignorance among the masses of the Southern people, the exclusion of the ordinary sources of information from their minds, the facility with which they have been imposed on by false and malignant reports of the intentions of the Northern people, or a portion of the Northern people. Others find the same causes in the unfortunate prevalence at the South of certain political heresies, as Nullification, Secession, and the exaggerated theory of State Eights.
A member of President Lincoln’s cabinet, speaking of its causes, near the commencement of the war, says:
‘For the last ten years an angry controversy has existed upon this question of Slavery. The minds of the people of the South have been deceived by the artful representations of demagogues, who have assured them that die people of the North were determined to bring the power of this Government to bear upon them for the purpose of crushing out this institution of slavery. I ask you, is there any truth in this charge? Has the Government of the United States, in any single instance, by any one solitary act, interfered with the institutions of the South? No, not in one.’
But let us go behind the symptoms—let us dive deeper than the superficial manifestations—let us ask why is it that the South were so specially disaffected by the election of a given individual, or the success of a given political party, to an extent and with an expression given to that disaffection wholly disproportionate to any such cause, and wholly unknown to the political usages of the land? Why is the South susceptible to this intense degree of offence at the ordinary contingency of defeat in a political encounter? Why, again, does the persistent discussion or agitation of any subject tend so specially to inflame the Southern mind beyond all the ordinary limits of moderation—to the denial of the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, and finally of the right of national existence itself to the North—except in conformity with preconceived opinions and theories of its own? Why were they of the South standing ready, as to their mental posture, for any or every rash and unadvised step? Why, again, are the Southern people uneducated and ignorant, as the predominant fact respecting a majority of their population? Why is the state of popular information in that whole region of a nominally free country, such as to make it an easy thing to impose upon their credulity and instruct them into a full belief in the most absurd and monstrous fabrications, or falsifications of the truth? Why were the ordinary sources of information excluded from their minds, more than from ours, or from the population of any other country? Why this fatal facility on the part of the Southern public for being misled by the designing purposes of ambitious demagogues; imbued with unjust prejudices; deluded into a murderous assault upon their best friends, and into the infliction of the most serious political injury upon themselves? Why, as a people, are they prompt to rush from the pursuits of peace into all the horrors and contingencies of war?—from the enjoyment of political freedom, at least nominal and apparent, into the arms of a military despotism, the natural and necessary ultimatum of the course which they have chosen to adopt?
The one and sole answer to all these questions is, Slavery. Some one has said, in speaking of the present crisis, that the sentiment of loyalty has never been prevalent at the South. This is a grand mistake. No people on the surface of the planet have more sincerely felt or more invariably and unflinchingly demonstrated loyalty than they. But it is not loyalty to the American Government, nor indeed to any political institutions whatsoever. It is loyalty to slavery and to cotton. No other ideas exist, with any marked prominence, at the South. The Northern people have never understood the South, and their greatest danger in the present collision results from that ignorance. The difference between the two peoples is indeed so wide that it is not equalled by that which exists between any two nations of Europe— if we except, perhaps, the Western nations and the Turks. The single institution of slavery has, for the last sixty or seventy years, taken absolute possession of the Southern mind, and moulded it in all ways to its own will. Everything is tolerated which does not interfere with it; nothing whatsoever is tolerated which does. No system of despotism was ever established on earth so thorough, so efficient, so all-seeing, so watchful, so permeating, so unscrupulous, and so determined.
The inherent, vital principle of slavery is irresponsible, despotic rule. The child is born into the exercise of that right; his whole mental constitution is imbued with its exercise. Hence for twenty or thirty years—not by virtue of law, but against law—the mails have been searched throughout the South for incendiary matter, with a strictness of censorship unknown to any Government of Europe. Northern men and Europeans immigrating to the South have uniformly been quietly dragooned and terrorized into the acceptance of theories and usages wholly unknown to any free country;—quietly, only because the occasion for doing the same thing violently and barbarously had not yet arrived.
The two civilizations, North and South, are wholly unlike. Without the slavery of four millions of men, to be kept in subjection by a conspiracy to that effect, on the part of the whole free population—the lack of fidelity to which conspiracy is the only treason known in those regions—the existence of a people like the inhabitants of the Southern States would be a riddle incapable of solution. Slavery itself, is a remnant of barbarism overlapping the period of civilization; but, unlike the slaveries of the barbaric ages, American slavery has been stimulated into all the enterprising and audacious energy of this advanced and progressive age. It is an engine of ancient barbarism worked by the steam of modern intelligence. The character of the people which has been created under this rare and anomalous state of things is alike rare and anomalous. No other people ever so commingled in themselves the elements of barbarous and even savage life with traits of the highest civilization. No other community were ever so instinct with the life of the worst ages of the past, and so endowed with the physical and intellectual potencies of the present. The national character of the South is that of the gentlemanly blackleg, bully, and desperado. Courteous when polished, but always overbearing; pretentious of a conventional sense of honor—which consists solely in a readiness to fight in the duel, the brawl, or the regular campaign, and to take offence on every occasion; with no trace of that modesty or delicacy of sentiment which constitutes the soul of true honor; ambitious, unscrupulous, bold; dashing and expert; with absolutely no restrictions from conscience, routine, or the ordinary suggestions of prudence; false and, like all braggarts, cowardly when beaten; confident of their own strength until brought to the severest tests; capable of endurance and shifts of all kinds; awaiting none of the usual conditions of success—the Southern man and the Southern people are neither comfortable neighbors in a state of peace, nor enemies to be slightly considered or despised in war.
The anomalous character of Southern society, it cannot be too often repeated, is not understood and cannot be understood by the people of the North, or of Europe, otherwise than through the sharp experience of hostile and actual contact; nor otherwise than in the light of the inherent tendency and necessary educational influences of the one institution of slavery. Of the whole South, in degree, and of the Southwestern States preeminently, it may be said as a whole description in a single form of expression: They know no other virtue than brute physical courage, and no other crime than abolitionism or negro-stealing.
All this is said, not for the purpose of blackening the South, not from partisan rancor or local prejudice, or exaggerated patriotic zeal, but because it is true. It is not true, however, of the whole population of the South, nor true, perhaps, in the absolute sense of any portion. It is impossible to characterize any people without a portion of individual injustice, or to state the drift of an individual character even, without a like injustice to better traits, adverse to the general drift, and which, to constitute a complete inventory of national or personal attributes, should be enumerated. There is at the South a large counterpoise, therefore, of adverse statement, which might be, and should be made if the object of the present writing were a complete analysis of the subject. It is, however, not so, but a statement of the preponderance of public character and opinion in those States. As a people they have their countervailing side of advantage—a great deal of amiability and refinement in certain neighborhoods, so long as their inherent right of domination is not disputed. Men and women are found, all over the South, who as individuals are better than the institution by which their characters are affected, and whose native goodness could not be wholly spoiled by its adverse operation. Slavery, too, offers certain advantages for some special kinds of culture. We of the North, on the other hand, have our own vices of a kind not to be disguised nor denied; so that the present statement should not be mistaken for an attempt to characterize in full either population. It is simply perceived that the grand distinctive drift of Southern society is directly away from the democratic moorings of our favorite republican institutions; is rapid in its current and irresistible in its momentum; and that already the divergency attained between the political and popular character of the people at the North and the South is immense; that these constantly widening tendencies—one in behalf of more and more practical enlargement of the liberty of the individual; the other backward and downward toward the despotic political dogmas and practices of the ignorant and benighted past—have proceeded altogether beyond anything which has been seen and recognized by the people of the North; and that, consequently, the whole North has been acting under a misapprehension.
The spirit of the South is and has been belligerent, rancorous, and unscrupulous. The idea of settling any question by the discussion of principles, by mutual concessions, by the understanding, admission, and defence of the rights of each, is not in all their thoughts. They are inherently and essentially invaders and conquerors, in disposition, and so far as it might chance to prove for them feasible, would ever be so in fact. “War with them is therefore no matter of child’s play, no matter of courtesy or chivalry toward enemies, except from a pompous and theatrical show of a knightly character, which they do not possess;—it is simply a question of pillaging and enslaving, without let or hindrance from moral or humanitary considerations, to any extent to which they may find, by the experiment now inaugurated, their physical power to extend. The North, let it be repeated, entered into this war under a misapprehension of the whole state of the case. It is at the present hour, to a fearful extent, under the same misapprehension. There is still a belief prevailing that the South only needs to be coaxed or treated kindly or magnanimously to be convinced that she has mistaken the North; that she has not the grievances to complain of which she supposes she has, and that she can yet obtain just and equitable treatment from us. There is a tacit assumption in the minds of men that she must be content to receive the usage at our hands which we are conscious that we are ready to bestow, and which has in it no touch of aggressive and unjust intention. It is not realized that the spirit of the South, in respect to the North, in respect to Mexico, in respect to the islands of the sea, and —should their power prove proportionate to their unscrupulous piratical aspirations—in respect to all the nations of the earth, is that of the burglar and the highwayman. It is not realized that the institution of slavery—itself essential robbery of the rights of man; covering the area of half a continent, and the number of four millions of subjects; planted in the midst of an intellectually enlightened people, whose moral sense it has utterly sapped—is essentially a great educational system, as all-pervading and influential over the minds of the whole population as the common schools of New England; and that this grand educational force tends toward and culminates in this same tendency toward robbery and the suppression of human rights or the individual and national rights of all other people—expressed in a collective and belligerent way. It is not, as said before, that all men at the South are of this filibustering cast; but the bold, enterprising, and leading class of the population are so, and the remainder are passive in their hands. Virtually and practically, therefore, the South are a nation of people having far more relationship in thought and purpose with the old Romans during the period of the republic and the empire, or with the more modern Goths and Vandals and Huns, than they have with the England or New England of to-day.
It is such a people, planted on our borders and aroused for the first time to an exhibition on a large scale of those abiding and augmenting national attributes and propensities which have thus been indicated, with whom we are now brought into hostile array. They are at present trying their hand at the collective and organic activities of a national cutthroatism which, in an individual and sporadic way, has for many years past constituted the national life of that people. Who at the North, at the commencement of the war, impressively understood these facts? Who even now sees and knows, as the fact is, that the military success of Jefferson Davis; that his triumphant inarch on Philadelphia, New York, and Boston—as they of the South threaten, and intend if they have the power, and have already twice unsuccessfully attempted—would terminate not, in a separation of these States by a permanent disruption of the old Union; nor in new compromises of any kind whatsoever; but in the absolute conquest of the whole North—not conquest even in any sense now understood among civilized people; but conquest with more than all the horrors which fourteen centuries ago were visited on Southern Europe by the overwhelming avalanche of Northern barbarian invasion?—that in that event, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of locomotion without question, freedom in any sense which makes life valuable to the man once educated into the conception of freedom, is lost?—that the whole progress of modern civilization and development, as it has been working itself out in the Northern American States, would not only be diverted from its course, but positively reversed and made to contribute all its accumulations of power to the building up, not of the temple of Freedom for the blessing of the nations, but of an infernal pantheon of Despotism and human oppression?
The North was forced, reluctantly and unwillingly, into this war: with her as yet it has hardly become a matter of earnest. She has endeavored to carry it on considerately and tenderly, for the well-being of the South as well as of the North, much in the spirit of a quiet Quaker gentleman unexpectedly set upon by a drunken rowdy, ‘spoiling for a fight,’ and whom in his benevolence and surprise, he is anxious indeed to restrain, but without inflicting on him serious injury. In an especial degree was this tenderness felt on the part of the Government and people of the North toward that peculiar institution of the South which is distinctively known to be, in some way, fundamentally related to this unprovoked and unreasonable attack. While the South was attributing to the whole North a rabid abolitionism; while the North itself was hah’ suspecting that it had committed some wrong in the excess of its devotion to human rights; the simple fact on the contrary was, that the whole North had been and was still ‘psychologized’ into a positive respect for slavery, and for slaves as property, which we feel for no other species of property whatsoever. The existence of this sentiment of veneration for what our Abolition apostles have for some years been denominating the ‘sum of all villanies,’ is a curious fact in the spiritual history of our people, which had very generally escaped critical observation.
At the South, the individual planter, owning and possessing ten slaves, of an aggregate value, it may be, of ten thousand dollars, ranks higher, socially, is regarded indeed, in some subtile way, as a richer man, than the merchant or banker who may be worth his hundred thousand or half million of dollars, provided he has no slaves. To come to be the owner of negroes, and of more and more negroes, is the social ambition, the aristocratic purpose and pretension of the whole Southern people. It is by virtue of this mystical prestige of the institution itself; which couples the charms of wealth with the exercise of authority, or a certain show of official supremacy on the part of the master; which begins by subjugating the imagination of the poorer classes, the whites throughout the South, whose direct interests are wholly opposed to those of the slaveholding class, and ends by subjecting them, morally and spiritually, and binding them in the bonds of the most abject allegiance to the oligarchy of slaveholders. It is in this way that the South is made a unit out of elements seemingly the most incongruous and radically opposed. For a series of years past, the South has sent forth its annual caravan of wealthy planters to visit the watering places, and inhabit the great hotels of the North. Coming in intimate contact with the superior classes of our own population; floating up in the atmosphere of serene self-complacency; radiating, shedding down upon those with whom they chanced to associate, the ineffable consciousness of their own unquestionable superiority; they have communicated without effort on their part, and without suspicion on the part of those who were inoculated by their presence, the exact mould and pressure of their own slaveholding opinion. To this extent, and in this subtile and ethereal way, the North had imposed upon it, unconsciously, a certain respect, amounting to veneration, for what may be called the sanctity of slavery, as it rests in and constitutes the aromal emanation from every Southern mind. Hence not only did we begin this war with the feeling of tenderness toward the Southern man and the Southern woman as brother and sister in the common heritage of patriotism, but, superadded to this, with a special sentiment of tenderness toward that special institution for which it is known that they, our brethren, entertain such special regard.
Now all this is rapidly changing; the outrages inflicted on citizens of the North residing at the South at the opening of the war—hardly paralleled in the most barbarous ages in any other land;—their reckless and bloodthirsty methods of war; their bullying arrogance and presumption; the true exposition, in line, of the Southern character as it is, in the place of a high- toned chivalry which they have claimed for themselves, and which the people of the North have been tacitly inclined to accord—are all awakening the Government and the people to some growing sense of the real state of the case. Still, however, we are so far dominated by these influences of the past, that we are not fighting the South upon anything like a fair approximation to equal terms. They have no other thought than to inflict on us of the North the greatest amount of evil; the animus of deadly war. We, on the other hand, fight an unwilling fight, with a constant arrière pensée to the best interests of the people whom we oppose—not even as we might construe those interests, but, by a curious tenderness and refinement of delicacy, for those interests as they, from their point of view, conceive them to be. We forbear from striking the South in their most vital and defenceless point, while they forbear in nothing, and have no purpose of forbearance.
Who doubts for a moment that a thousand mounted men, acting with the freedom which characterized the movements of the detachment of Garibaldi in the Italian war, acting with the authorization of the Government, actuated by the spirit of a John Brown or a Nat Turner, sent, or rather let go, into the mountains of Virginia, North Carolina, or Georgia, with the authority to assemble and arm the slaves, retreating whenever assailed to the fastnesses of the mountains, would cause more terror in those States; would do more, in a word, toward the actual conquest in three months’ time of those rebel commonwealths, than fifty or a hundred times their number organized in the regular forms of modern warfare, operating against the whites only, and half-committed to the cooperative protection of the institution of slavery, would accomplish in a year? Who doubts for a moment that, if the South could find a like vulnerable point in the openings of our armor, she would make, with no hesitation, the most fearful and tremendous use of her advantage? The whole North is aware of its possession, in its own hands, of this immense engine of destructive power over its enemy. The whole civilized world stands by, beholding us possessed of it, and expecting, as a simple matter of course, that we shall not fail to employ it—standing by indeed, perplexed and confused at the seeming lack of any significance in the war itself, unless we make use of the power at our command in this fortuitous struggle, not only to inflict the greatest injury upon our enemy, but to extinguish forever the cause of the whole strife. Still we forbear to make the most efficient use of our advantage. “We for a long time embarrassed and partially crippled ourselves in all our movements by an almost unconscious sense of responsibility for the protection of this very institution of slavery from the disastrous consequences which were liable to fall upon it as the results of the war.
True, we are slowly and gradually recovering from this perversion of opinion. The Emancipation Proclamation was probably issued as soon, or nearly as soon, as the Northern sentiment was prepared to give it even a moral support. Another term had to expire to accustom the same public mind to appropriate the spirit of that document as matter of earnest; to come to regard it as anything more than a mere brutum fulmen, a Pope’s bull, as President Lincoln once called it himself, against the comet. Up to this hour, its effect on the war has been far more as a moral influence preparing for a great change of opinion and of conduct, than as a charter of efficient operations. General Thomas’s action at the South, just previous to the capture of Vicksburg, began experimentally to inaugurate, on something like an adequate scale, the new programme of practical work in the conduct of the war. Even a month earlier his movement would hardly have been tolerated by the same army, which, just then beginning to appreciate the tremendous difficulty of the enterprise of conquering the South, were ready to accept anything new which promised to augment their own strength and to weaken that of the enemy. Still another term of waiting and suffering is requisite to change the habit of mind which has so long despised and maltreated the negro, before he will be put, in all respects, upon the footing of his own merit as a patriot and a soldier; and before all of his uses as the severest goad in the sides of the hostile South will be fairly appreciated.
Thus in all ways we are only now in the midst of a revolution of opinion, which, when it is accomplished, will be seen to be the greatest triumph of the war. Though we have spoken of this change as slowly and gradually occurring, yet, viewed with reference to the long periods of a nation’s life, it is an immense revolution almost instantly effected. We are perhaps already one half prepared adequately to use our tremendous advantage. New disasters may be providentially requisite to quicken our education in the right direction; more punishment for our complicity in the crimes of the South; new incentives to a more perfect love of justice as a people; but every indication points to the early achievement of these substantial victories over ourselves, while, at the same time, we conquer the powerful array of Southern intrepidity and desperation, in behalf of their bad cause, upon the external battle field.
To resume the question of causes. Why is there, and why has there always been at the South this unfortunate prevalence of certain political heresies, as Nullification, Secession, and the exaggerated theory of State Rights?
The answer is still, slavery. The cause of causes, lying back of the whole wide gulf of difference in Northern and Southern politics is still, slavery. From the date of our Constitution, opinion has divided into two great currents, North and South, in behalf of paramount allegiance to the General Government at the North, and paramount allegiance to the several State Governments at the South. The resolutions of ‘98 and ‘99 began the public expression of a political heresy, which has gone on augmenting at the South from that day to this. At the North, the Government of the United States was never feared as likely to become injurious in any sense to the inhabitants of the States. Each State fell quietly and harmoniously into its true subordinate orbit, acknowledging gladly and without question the supremacy of the new Government, representative of the whole of the people, in simple accord with the spirit and intention of the Constitution and the Government which the people had formed. At the South, on the contrary, the United States Government was, from the first, looked upon with a suspicion plainly expressed in the speech, for example, of Patrick Henry, in the Virginia convention, which consented reluctantly that the State should come into the Union, lest the National Government might, in some unforeseen contingency, interfere with the interests of the institution of slavery. That fear, the determination to have it otherwise, to make the General Government, on the contrary, the engine and supporter of slavery, the propagandist of slavery, in fine; has been always, since, the animating spirit of Southern political doctrine. A doctrine so inaugurated and developed has endeavored to engraft itself by partisan alliance upon the Democratic party of the North, but always hitherto with an imperfect success. State Rights, as ‘ affirmed at the North, has never been a dogma of any considerable power, because it has rested on no substratum of suspicion against the General Government, nor of conspiracy to employ its enginery for special or local designs. At the South it has been vital and significant from the first, and it has grown more mischievous to the last. President Lincoln, in his first message, discussed, ably enough, the right of secession as a mere constitutional or legal right. Others have done the same before and since. The opinion of the lawyer is all very well, but it has no special potency to restrain the nocturnal activities of the burglar. All such discussions are, for the present behalf, utterly puerile. Secession, revolution, the bloody destruction and extinction of the whole nation, were for years before the war foregone determinations in the Southern mind, to be resorted to at any instant at which such extreme measures might become necessary; not merely to prevent any interference with the holy institution; but equally to secure that absolute predominance of the slaveholding interest over the whole political concerns of the country which should protect it from interference, and give to it all the expansion and potency which it might see fit to claim. So long as that absolute domination could be maintained within the administration of the Government, slavery and slaveholders were content to remain nominally republican and democratic—actually despots and unlimited rulers. But a contingency threatened them in the future. The numerical growth of population at the North, the moral convictions of the North—both of these united, or some other unforeseen circumstance, might withdraw the operations of the General Government from their exclusive control. To provide for that possible contingency, the doctrine of paramount allegiance to the individual States, and secondary allegiance merely to the General Government—a perpetual indoctrination of incipient treason—was invented, and has been sedulously taught at the South from the very inception of the Government. Hardly a child in attendance upon his lessons in an ‘old-field’ schoolhouse throughout that region but has been imbued with this primary devotion to the interests of his State; certainly, not a young lawyer commencing to acquire his profession, and riding the circuit from county court-house to court-house, but has had the doctrine drummed into his ears, of allegiance to his State; and when the meaning and importance of that teaching was inquired for, he was impressively and confidentially informed that the occasion might arise of collision between the South and the General Government on the subject of slavery; and that then it would be of the last importance that every Southern man should be true to his section. Thus the way has been prepared through three generations of instruction, for the precise event which is now upon us, flaunting its pretensions as a new and accidental occurrence.
Meantime, the North has suspected nothing of all this. Her own devotion and loyalty to the General Government have been constantly on the increase, and she has taken it for granted that the same sentiments prevailed throughout the South. Hence the utter surprise felt at the enormous dimensions which the revolt so suddenly took on, and at the unaccountable defection of such numbers, of Southern men from the army and the navy at the first call upon sectional loyalty. The question is not one of legal or constitutional rights in accordance with the literal understanding of any parchment or document whatsoever. The most triumphant arguments of President Lincoln or of anybody else have had in the past, and have now, no actual relevancy to the question at the South, and might as well be totally spared. It is purely and simply that the South are in dead earnest to have their own way, unchecked by any considerations of justice or right, or any other considerations of any kind whatsoever—less than the positive demonstration of their physical inability to accomplish their most cherished designs. Even in a technical way, the question is not most intelligibly stated as one of the right of secession; it is the bald question of Paramount Allegiance; it is so understood at the South. The whole action of the South is based upon a thorough indoctrination into a political dogma never so much as fairly conceived of at the North as existing anywhere, until events now developing themselves have revealed it, and which is not now even well understood among us. Back of this indoctrination again, and the sole cause of it, is the existence of the institution of slavery; its own instinct from the first that it had no other ground of defence or hope of perpetuation but physical force; its fears of invasion and its obstinate determination to invade.
The supposition has, until quite recently, extensively prevailed in the Northern mind that slavery is or was regarded at the South as a necessary evil, borne because it was inherited from the past and because its removal had become now next to impossible. A certain school of Northern philanthropists, headed, we believe, by Elihu Burritt, had gone so far, previous to the war, as to form a society and appeal to the Northern people for aid to enable their Southern brethren, through such aid, and finally, perhaps, through the interposition of the General Government, to rid themselves of this monster evil. This handful of kindly individuals must soon have discovered; had they come into actual contact with the prevailing sentiment of the South; that their whole movement was based upon a misapprehension of that sentiment. Thirty-five years ago, and before the Northern abolition movement had taken root in the land, it was a pleasant fiction for the Southern mind to speak deprecatingly of the blame which they otherwise might seem to incur in the mind of mankind for adhering to their barbarous institution; to plead their own conviction of its entire wrongfulness, and to commiserate themselves for their utter inability to free themselves from its weight. A certain considerable freedom of discussion in relation to its abstract merits was allowed,, with the tacit condition imposed, however, just as really though not as consciously as now, that slavery itself must not be disturbed. Talk which had in it any touch of genuine feeling in favor of active exertion to rid the country of the institution as an evil, was then as effectually tabooed as it is to-day, with some minor exceptions on the borders of the slaveholding region, in Baltimore, North Carolina, Eastern Tennessee, etc., and with the further exception when Virginia was terrified for a few weeks or months by the results of a desperate insurrection. On the strength of these few exceptions, it has been claimed at the South, and still more persistently by Southern sympathizers at the North, that the whole drift and tendency of things at the South prior to the commencement of the abolition agitation at the North were toward gradual emancipation, and that they would have ultimated at an early day in that result. This, too, is a pleasant fiction with the least possible percentage of truth at the bottom of it.
The institution of slavery, under the stimulus given to it by the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney, and the consequent development of the cotton-growing industry—aided, curiously enough, in a certain sense, by the prohibition of the African slave trade, giving rise to the slave-rearing business in Virginia and Maryland—has all along been exhibiting a steady, sturdy, and rapid growth. By the alliance, accidentally as it were, resulting from the prohibition of the slave trade, between the Southern and the Northern slave- holding States, a robustness and consistency were given to the whole slave- holding interest which possibly it might never have had under a different policy. If the foreign importation of slaves had continued, that species of population would gradually have overrun the cotton-raising border of States—would have overrun them to an extent threatening the safety of the institution there by its own plethora—while from the southern line of North Carolina and Tennessee northward, where this extra- profitable industry could not readily be extended, the temptation to the importation of slaves would have been slight, no market existing for the home increase. The hold of the institution would have been constantly weakened there in the affections of the white population; and, in those States, there is a seeming probability that white labor and free labor would have taken the place of the present system, as it did in the States farther north. This would have deprived the Southern belt of cotton-raising and negro-holding States of that sympathy which, under existing circumstances, they have steadily had from their more northern sisters, and favored an early extinction of the system. However this might have been, as things are and have been actually, it is certain that at no period has the growth of the slaveholding institution exhibited any weakness or defect of vitality. Like an infant giant, it has steadily waxed stronger and stronger, and more and more arrogant and aggressive.
When the anti-slavery agitation commenced at the North, the parties who engaged in it had no consciousness of the immense magnitude and potent vitality of the institution against which they proposed to carry on a moral warfare. They supposed that, as a matter of course, they would find a universal sympathy throughout the North with doctrines in behalf of freedom, where freedom was the basis of all our institutions, and where, apparently, there was no alliance of interest, no possible reason for a sympathy with slavery or the denial of freedom to man. They were met unexpectedly by a powerful current of semi-slaveholding opinion pervading the whole area of the Tree States, and ready to deny to them free speech or the rightfulness of any effort to arouse the people to a consideration of the subject. When, after some years of contest, this current of prejudgment was partially reversed, and their new thought began to find audience by the Northern ear; when, strengthened by numbers and the better comprehension of the subject by themselves; the increased determination and enthusiasm which arose from the esprit du corps; and the assurance—satisfactory to themselves at least—that they were engaged in a good cause; they began to grapple more directly with intensified and genuine pro-slavery sentiment at the South itself, they were astonished to find that, instead of battling with a weak thing, they had engaged in moral strife with one of the most mighty institutions of the earth.
Pro-slavery sentiment at the South, inherently arrogant and aggressive, as already said, was, at the same time and from the same causes, aroused to the consciousness of its own strength. Called on to answer for the unseemly fact of its existence in the midst of these modern centuries, when the world boasts of human freedom and progression, it began by blushing for its hideous aspect and uttering feeble and deprecative apologies. Not that it was at bottom ashamed of its existence, for slavery, like despotism of all sorts, is characteristically self-confident and proud; but because it had been allowed to grow up under protest in the midst of free institutions, and among a people conscious of the incongruity of the relationship existing between them and it; and had so contracted the habit of apology, and the hypocritical profession of regret for its own inherent wrongfulness. Provoked, however, to try its strength against the feeble assaults of the new friends of freedom, finding all its demands readily yielded to, and itself victorious in every conflict, it soon threw off its false professions of modesty, pronounced itself free from every taint of wrong-doing, claimed to be the very corner stone and basis of free institutions themselves, the condition sine qua non of all successful experiment in republican and democratic organizations, and became boldly and openly the assailant and propagandist, instead of occupying any longer the position of defence. Then followed the various attempts to overthrow and extinguish free speech in the capital of the nation by the use of the bludgeon, to extend slavery by illegal and bloodthirsty means over the soil of Kansas, to strengthen the enactments of the fugitive slave law by new and more offensive provisions, and to cause the authority of the Slave Power to be openly and confessedly recognized throughout the whole land, as it had been for years secretly and warily predominant. The opposition to these measures of aggression ceased to be wholly confined to the mere handful of technical abolitionists, and to spread and to take possession of the minds of the whole people, exciting surprise and alarm, and arousing them to some slight efforts at resistance. With this rising tendency to resist arose in like measure the tendency of the slaveholding power to invade. The alternative was quietly but resolutely chosen in the minds of the leading politicians of the South to ‘rule or ruin.’ Preparation was made for retaining the absolute control of the General Government at Washington, and for extending the influence of the peculiar institution over the whole North and all adjacent countries, so long as that policy should prove practicable; and, if by any contingency defeated in it, to break up the Union as it existed, and reconstruct it upon terms which should place the slaveholding aristocracy in that front rank of authority without question, to which, as a settled conviction, ever present and dominant in their minds, they alone, of all men, are preeminently entitled.
Accordingly they imposed their weight more and more heavily upon the successive administrations from Van Buren down to Buchanan, and were encouraged to find that, in proportion as they pressed harder in their demands, proportionate concessions seldom failed to be made. The reaction at the North was nevertheless steadily progressing. “Wisely perceiving that the first part of their programme of action had nearly served its day; that preparation must be made for entering on the second and more desperate part of their conspiracy against free government; they forced on the crisis at the Democratic Convention in Charleston, by demanding terms which, with the fire in the rear now regularly organized and steadily operative at the North, that party could not accede to, without consenting to its own death. A disruption ensued of the unnatural alliance between the Southern oligarchy and the Northern Democracy, and the Southern leaders from that hour availed themselves of their sole remaining lease of power under the administration of Mr. Buchanan to strengthen their position by all means, honorable and dishonorable, for the coming conflict, which by them had been long planned or at least looked forward to, as the probable contingency. Having virtually the entire control of the General Government, they used their power for sending South the arms of the common country, for disposing the army and navy in such ways as to leave them in the least degree effective for opposing their designs; and with all the quietness and deliberation of a dying millionaire making, his will, they prepared to begin the conflict which the lazy and confiding North had not even begun to suspect as among the possibilities of the future; and to begin it absolutely upon their own terms.
Enough has now been said, perhaps, in relation to the causes of the present war. The present stage of its development is such as might have been fairly anticipated from such a commencement. The South has had the advantage of earnestness and concentration of purpose; of a warlike and aggressive spirit; of prior preparation, and of a full knowledge from the first of the desperate nature of the enterprise upon which they were about to enter, with a readiness to meet all its contingencies, and, since the great uprising, with no anticipation of easy work. The North was hurried into a war for which it had no preparation, to which it had never looked as a serious probability, and for which it had been stripped in a great measure, through the pilfering policy of the South, of the ordinary means at its command. A peaceable and highly civilized people, among whom actual war upon its own soil had been unknown for nearly fifty years, and among whom the spirit of war, always so rife at the South, was opposed and neutralized by a thousand industrial and peaceful propensities, was suddenly called into the field. Uninstructed at first in the real nature of the conflict, regarding it as an unreasonable disaffection, and therefore necessarily limited in extent, not aroused even yet to a full consciousness of the momentous consequences involved in the struggle and its gigantic proportions, they have come to the work, in a great measure, unprepared. Their condition at its commencement was even leas favorable than that of the British nation at the commencement of the Russian war. Both of these great industrial peoples, with whom war had fallen among the traditions of the past, had to begin new struggles by learning anew the theory and practice of war. The Northern people rose, after the assault on Fort Sumter demonstrated to them that the South was in earnest, with the unanimity and power as of a single man, but bewildered and uncertain which way to turn, or how to grapple with the strange and unaccountable monster of rebellion which had suddenly precipitated himself among them. The whole habits of the nation had to undergo a violent and rapid change. A new educational experience had to be hurried through its successive courses of instruction. The gristle on the bone of the new military organization had to have time to harden. Sharp experiences had to be undergone, and will still have to be endured, as part of the price of tuition in the novel career to which we have been so unexpectedly called. Still, we have great power in reserve; no feeling of discouragement, no thought of abandoning the purpose of maintaining our integrity as a people, no sense of weakness possesses our minds. Great and triumphant successes are attending our arms. State after State, swept at first wholly or in part into the vortex of revolt, is again included within our military lines and brought back to a partial allegiance. New questions are rising into importance. “We pass from the consideration of causes to that of results. It is a different and a difficult work to forecast the future. It is a perilous experiment to enact the prophet or seer, but in another paper we shall venture at least upon some suggestions which may have their uses in modulating that national destiny which none of us have the power actually to create or even to foretell.
We come, in this paper, to the consideration of the possible results which this war might have, viewed from the beginning; of the several modes, in other words, in which it might terminate. The most distant extremes of possible eventuality were the entire conquest of the North by the South, and the entire conquest of the Southern rebellion by the North, so as to secure the continuance of the old Union upon the old basis; or with such modifications us the changed condition of things at the South might require. The supposition of the conquest of the Northern States by the Southern Vandals has been already glanced at and sufficiently considered for so remote and improbable a contingency. The counter supposition of the entire success of the United States Government in the reassertion of its own authority over the whole of its original domain, divided, at the commencement of the war, into two branches.
It was the general theory at the North, at that time, that the animus of rebellion was confined at the South to comparatively few minds, and that the war was to be a war, not against the South as a people, but against a tyrannical and usurping faction at the South, and for the defence of the people at large residing in that region. There was a modicum of truth in this theory, but events have shown, and any one who knew the South well might safely have predicted, that the whole people there would soon be subdued to the authority of those few. Such was the terror throughout the confederacy, and still is, where the facts have not been already changed by the war, at the mere imputation of sympathy with anti-slavery sentiment in any form, that a part, hardly one tenth even of the whole, in numerical strength, could successfully put the remaining nine tenths into Coventry, and bully them out of all expression of adverse opinion, by simply threatening to accuse them of abolition tendencies. No people on earth were ever so completely cowed by the nightmare of unpopular opinion as the people of the South. Hence whatever was violently advocated under pretence of excessive devotion to, or ultra championship of the cause of slavery, was sure in the end to succeed. By this process, the Union party at the South has been gradually overawed and diminished for years past, and finally driven, since the outbreak of the rebellion, into a complete surrender to, and a full cooperation with the rebel chiefs. Whatever may seem to be the reaction in behalf of Union sentiment, as the triumphant armies of the North march to the Gulf, it will be long before the real opinion of the masses will declare itself in full as it exists. The fear of the renewal of the old terrorism, so soon as our armies shall be withdrawn, will effectually prevent the free expression of the favorable sentiment which has heretofore existed, and still exists, as a substratum of Southern opinion in favor of the Union, unless the Northern conquest is made unquestionably final.
In the event that the theory just stated should have proved true, that, aided by the presence of Northern troops, there should have been a loyal sentiment sufficiently powerful and extended to reassert itself, in the extreme South, and that, consequently, all the Southern States should have been again represented in Congress at an early day, and should again have taken their places as equal partners under the Constitution of our common country, it seemed just possible that the results of the war should be confined, in their immediate action, to what may be called its educational effects upon the Southern mind and its economical bearings upon the wealth and industry of the nation.
As the other branch of the alternative, the South might have to be conquered by the force of our arms, and might remain unanimously, or in vast preponderance, disloyal and rebellious in spirit. In that event, it would be requisite, if those States were to be retained at all as part of the Union, that they should be reconsigned to the Territorial condition, or otherwise governed still by the central authority.
In the former of these two latter suppositions: that of the reestablishment of the old status, it was foreseen by some, as not impossible, that the final result might prove disastrous to the freedom of the North. With the advent of peace, the suspicions of the Northern people with regard to the designs and real character of Southern men would have been allayed. A certain appeal would even have been made, by the suggestions of their own generosity, to the hearts of Northern men to lay aside all hostile and adverse action as against the South, and to welcome them with open arms to all the rights and privileges of the common country. Meantime, a horde of unscrupulous machinators would have been installed in the seats of power at ‘Washington, and would have recommenced operations, in the consciousness of the new strength acquired in the field from which they had just retired, with all the chicanery and craft with which heretofore they had blinded the North and secretly controlled the destinies of our Government. Southern men and Southern women would again have been feasted and feted at Northern hotels and watering places, and again have given tone to Northern opinion, while new and especial reasons would have seemed to exist for opposing countervailing influences, as unnecessary agitation, and causes of the retention of acrimonious feeling between the two sections, which had now resolved to live in amity with each other. In a word, all the sources of corruption of Northern sentiment, emanating from the South, would have been renewed in their operation, with some circumstances added, tending to give to them greater potency than ever before.
Undoubtedly, immense advantages were to be contemplated in the restoration of the United States to their primitive boundaries and united power. But it was not without deep apprehension of moral taint and ulterior evil consequences, that a wise patriot could look even then to any attempt of the old matrimonial partners to dwell again in a common household, upon the old terms, and with no real settlement of the dispute between them.
The latter of these suppositions, the remanding of a hostile and rebellious tier of States, who had long and proudly enjoyed the dignity of State sovereignty, to a subordinate condition, had also its proportion of difficulty and danger. To carry out a programme of this kind would demand a great increase of the army and navy, and would give to the military spirit and power a preponderance in the councils of the nation which has always been deemed dangerous to the liberties of the country. A constant drain of expenditure of the resources of the nation; a continuous unrest and anxiety of the whole people; a succession of outbreaks and partial renewals of the civil war; the installation of a necessary system of proconsular or vice-royal commissions; the appointment of men who, whether as provost-marshals, dictators, or what not, would be in the stated exercise of authority unmeasured by the theories of republican policy—all these were serious and threatening considerations, which must give the thoughtful mind some pause ere it entered upon their adoption.
There were other remaining possible suppositions in respect to the termination of the war, of a middling character, or those lying between the two opposite extremes. In case, without any positive conquest or submission on either side, the general tenor of success throughout the war should be with the South, so that it finally behooved the North to secure the most favorable terms, but to submit, nevertheless, to great deductions from its confident expectations, a theory then not wholly impossible, we had to contemplate, as one evil of the war, a final disruption of the original territory of the United States into two nationalities, coincident, as to boundary, with the Free and the Slave States. Except in the way of absolute conquest, the South would be little inclined to insist upon the addition to itself of any territory absolutely free. We were not required, therefore, to make this supposition any less favorable to the North than the division just suggested; and unless, again, power had been acquired by the South to impose terms on the North little short of those which a conqueror imposes on a conquered people, the North, within its own limit of Free States, would be left in a condition boldly to announce and actively to defend its own legitimate policy in behalf of the extension of free institutions and their development to the supreme degree of beneficent truth.
But again, it might have been foreseen that in case the eagle of victory should perch on the banners of the North; in case our arms should be generally victorious after a few incipient disasters; in case our armies should move in power southward, meeting, nevertheless, a steady and resisting front on the part of the South, making the prospect of ultimate conquest remote or hopeless; in case, in a single word, the North should find herself in position to dictate terms short of absolute submission and return to the common fold, but substantially in accordance with her own wishes, the question of boundary and of the future policy of the new North would have become one of immense importance.
Had such considerations been forced on the attention of the country by the course of the war, it may not be uninteresting to speculate upon the nature of the possible boundary, which a drawn game in the contest—a possibility at least, viewed from that early point of observation- -might have imposed upon the two future nationalities. We are considering the case still in which the preponderance of advantage should have remained with the North. It would have been, in that event, of the first importance that we should retain within the limits of the North all that portion of the South—by no means inconsiderable in extent—which has never been thoroughly debauched by Southern slaveholding opinion and theories of government; where the true American feeling is still extant; and where a good degree of loyalty to the Government of the United States has been hitherto exhibited. Such are especially Delaware, Maryland, Western Virginia, Kentucky, Western North Carolina, Eastern, and to some extent, Middle Tennessee, Northern Georgia, Northern Alabama, and Missouri. An important object would have been, had the power of the North proved inadequate to do more, to secure this territory within the boundary of the new North, and upon such terms as to give strength and new impetus to the freedom-loving sentiment there extant. A second object would have been the retention of Washington City, to be used, at least for the time being, as the capital of the country; avoiding the disgrace of being driven from that centre of national authority; and to secure it on terms in respect to territorial arrangement which should prevent it from being continually threatened from the South. To this end, it would have been necessary that the boundary be carried far enough south to include a portion of Northern and Northeastern Virginia, as thoroughly imbued at that day with slaveholding faith and practice, and as little loyal, perhaps, as any portion of the South—a region, however, which at this time has been Bo completely devastated by the operations of the war, that it would be readily liable to be resettled from the North, and made into an efficient military border.
If, retaining Fortress Monroe, we should then have run with the James River and the line of Richmond and Lynchburg, or if, ascending higher to the Chesapeake Bay and the Rappahannock, we were to run with the line of Fredericksburg, we should reach cither the Blue Ridge or the Alleghany Mountains, as in the case of power on our part, we might have chosen. With these mountains, sweeping in a southwesterly direction into Northern Georgia and Alabama, runs the line of division between the ‘true-blue’ Southern slaveholding opinion and policy, on the south and east, and the semi-Free- State opinion and policy on the north and west. One or other of these mountain ranges, with their unfrequent and difficult passes, would have offered the best natural boundary between the two future nations, whose divergent national tendencies would not have ceased with the nominal termination of the war to be essentially hostile.
Following this line till we reach the Tennessee river, thence along the course of that stream, turning northwardly to the Ohio, or more properly, perhaps, to the southern line of Kentucky, we exclude the most pestilent portion of Tennessee, of which Memphis is the capital, and retain the middle and eastern parts, along with Eastern Kentucky and Western Virginia. Thence passing westward with the southern line of Missouri to the Indian Territory, thence southward with the western line of Arkansas to the Red river, thence westward along that river as the boundary between the Indian Territory and Texas, to the one hundredth degree of longitude west from Greenwich, and with that meridian south, to the Rio Grande and the Gulf—dividing the western from the eastern half of Texas—we circumscribe very fairly the exact region of country in which the slaveholding epidemic is violent and intense, and throw within the limits of the great Northern Republic all of the region in which freedom is already established, and all that in which, as above stated, there was still a surviving and half vital tendency in freedom’s behalf.
In addition to a boundary so favorable to ourselves, and forced by our commanding position upon our unwilling adversary, we might have imposed upon her such other terms in relation to her foreign policy, customhouse regulations, and the like, as the extent of our power should have authorized. We might even have consigned the Southern States to a species of provisional and quasi nationality, with the claim and expectation of their ultimate return within the pale of the Union, when, through the severe ordeal of military despotism or anarchy at home, or from other causes, they should have purged themselves of that institution, adverse to all our policy, which has been the sole cause of all our woes.
Still more important it would have been, under the theory of this essentially victorious position of the Northern people, that Northern opinion and the purposes of Americanism on this continent—the assertion and defence of freedom and of free institutions of all sorts—should have been distinctly, peremptorily, and finally impressed upon the character and future career of our own Northern nationality. While those portions of slaveholding territory which would still have remained within the Union, would have had, of course, to be treated with courtesy and consideration, if the institution of slavery were to have been permitted to survive, they should have been thoroughly made to know from the first, that slavery among us was no longer to be regarded as a perpetuity; that it was only tolerated provisionally; and that we, as a people, had no intention of permitting its renewed influence in the councils of the nation. Cut off as these States would then have been from the possibilities of carrying on an inter-State slave trade with the Southern confederacy, the institution of slavery would have lost much of its value and potency; and allied, as those States would have been, as a small minority, with a country whose territorial and institutional preponderance would have been wholly in favor of freedom, we might have anticipated that, if closely watched and incidentally aided in its decline, the institution in these adhering slaveholding States would have reached its term of existence at no very distant day; at any rate, that it would, from the first, have been neutralized for any serious bad effects which it might have otherwise impressed upon our healthy national life. It was even worth reflection at that time whether, if the whole adjustment of the future were placed at our own disposition, there would not be less danger incurred, and more promise of a prompt, healthy, and powerful development on this continent of those grand purposes of national existence which the true American people have always had in view and at heart, if this plan were to be adopted, than if, on the contrary, the whole South were either quiescently, by the subsidence of the rebellion, or forcibly, to be reinstated within the limits of the Union, the institution of slavery remaining intact.
Northeastern Virginia, Southern Maryland, and portions of Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, and Middle Missouri would still have furnished pestilent centres of intense slaveholding sentiment, and would have required, perhaps, as much exercise of vigilance in preventing their undue influence as our usually sleepy habits of inattention to such causes would have authorized us to count upon.
With the gradual decline of this remnant of slavery in the Northern Union, and with the thousand contingencies threatening its perpetuity in the Southern States, after the sustaining influence of the North in its behalf should have been finally withdrawn, the anticipation would not have been without high grounds of probability, that the institution, as a whole, would have hastened more or less rapidly to its final dissolution; and that, one by one, the States of the South, ridding themselves of the incubus of slavery and its comcomitants—oligarchic, mobocratic, and military despotism—would have sought, for their own protection and happiness, to reenter the original Union as Free States. Such an issue of the conflict might at the commencement of the war have been looked forward to as almost fortunate, and as perhaps that which Providence had in store for us as a people. That larger measure of success, the entire destruction of slavery throughout the land, now rapidly coming to be a foregone conclusion in most minds, was then hardly hoped for by the most sanguine, although, as will appear by what follows, that alternative was then anticipated by the writer.
Finally, in case the war should have proved a drawn game between the two sections, with no special advantage on either side, some middle ground of adjustment between the two last suppositions might have been sought out, and an irregular line, running anywhere between Mason and Dixon’s line and the Ohio, on the one hand, and the Blue Ridge and the Tennessee river on the other, might have been forced upon us. In that event, a long-continued border warfare would have been to be anticipated, with innumerable complex difficulties from expenditure in the protection of the irregular and imperfect boundary, the collection of the revenues, and the like.
The reason why we have chosen, in these glances at the possible outcomings of the conflict, to go back to the state of the case as it was at the opening of the war, and to view the subject as it would present itself to the mind of a thoughtful man then, is, that this very paper was originally written at that day, and is now only recast to adapt it to the altered events from the actual progress of the war. The boundary line above sketched, as one which the nation might possibly find itself compelled to accept, was sketched, as it stands above, at that time, nearly two and a half years ago; and the reader will hardly fail to be struck with the remarkable coincidence between it and the present state of the military lines between the Northern and Southern armies; except in the fact of our actual possession of the Mississippi river to its mouth, cutting the Southern confederacy in twain. Had the defences below New Orleans proved impregnable, and Vicksburg more than a match for the strategy of General Grant, our present position would be almost identical with that contemplated by the writer at that early period of the war, as one of the alternative positions at which the struggle might at least temporarily terminate; and our present military line would be almost the same as that indicated as the baiting point of the war, then to be nominally but not really brought to an end. The pages following, and until the reader is advised to the contrary, are literally extracted from the original article, and should be read therefore as relating to the past period in question. Quotation marks are added to aid this understanding of the subject. They indicate, in this exceptional way, not literally the words of another writer, but those of the same writer, upon a different occasion.
‘We have reserved to the last the consideration of that possible outcoming of the war which is looked upon with most dread, both at the South and the North; from which both sections almost equally shrink as the possible issue; but which, nevertheless, may be forced on them by the logic of events, and that, too, at an earlier day than has been indicated by the expectations of either. While we write, the startling announcement is made from St. Louis that Major-General Fremont has been forced, by the threatening progress of the Southern armies, to declare martial law for the whole State of Missouri, coupled with the offer of freedom to the slaves. A military critic, writing from the Potomac and the lower counties of Maryland, is urging the application of the same policy to that region, as a means of defeating the contemplated passage of the river by the forces of the South. Whether the rumor so announced prove to be literally correct or not, it is hardly possible that the war can continue long, and grow desperate and earnest on any territory where slavery exists, without leading to this result. Tenderness and deference are sentiments which must soon give place to the stern struggle for life between hostile and desperate men. Already the South has not hesitated, in some instances, to muster her slaves into armed regiments, and in all cases to avail herself of their brawny arms as equally valuable assistants in the work of fortification, camp service, and all the other incidents of war. Still further, as a great body of laborers, undisturbed by the war, quietly conducting the general industry at home, and providing the means of sustaining immense armies in the field, the slaves are, in effect, an important auxiliary of the enemy’s power. Already the Congress of the United States has passed a law for the confiscation of all property so used, so stringent in its terms that, without much strain of legal ingenuity, it might be made to cover the whole case. The threatened continuance of disaster to Northern arms may at any moment force upon our generals the military necessity of declaring emancipation within a given district or State, and finally, it may be incumbent on the Government to resort to the same policy in reference to the whole South. The contest is one of life and death for the greatest human interests ever brought face to face in hostile array. But a single step is wanting, and we may at any moment be forced over the boundary which hitherto has prevented it from being a conflict avowedly for the utter extinction of the institution of slavery on the North American continent, on the one hand, and for the triumphant establishment of the policy and power of that institution over the whole land on the other.
‘In case such an event as that above alluded to should occur, a new disappointment will probably, to some extent, break upon the Northern mind. It will be found that the slaves of the South are not, as a body, so desirous of freedom, not so consciously intent upon the attainment of that boon, as ardent philanthropists at the North have supposed. The great masses of that population arc too far depressed in the scale of humanity to avail themselves earnestly and at once, of even the most favorable means which should be placed at their disposal to secure their own emancipation from thraldom.
‘To progress, even from slavery to freedom, is progression, nevertheless; and, as such, it is beset with all the hindrances and prejudices from ignorance and superstition which the advancement of the race meets always and at every step. Those among the slaves who fully appreciate the disadvantages of their position, and are earnestly intent upon the achievement of freedom, are a minority—the vigorous thinkers and reformers of the slave- population. The great masses are stupid and conservative, in the midst of the evil which they endure, until aroused by circumstances or the appeals of their more enterprising leaders. Even John Brown, knowing as much as he did of the South and of the negro character, miscalculated the readiness of the slaves of Virginia to fly to his. standard, judging them by his knowledge of the readiness of Missouri slaves upon the Kansas border, who, through a few years of local agitation, had come to be on the alert and ready to move.
‘In case, therefore, of the proclamation of emancipation in any slaveholding districts by our military chiefs, it will not be surprising if, for a time, the results of that step shall seem to be feeble, and shall be disproportionate to the expectations based upon it.
‘The course of events will probably be this: The emancipation of slaves by the proclamation of Northern generals will be followed by a partial tendency on the part of the slave-population to flock to their camps in a way similar to what has already happened in the neighborhood of Fortress Monroe; and this, again, by mustering them into our service, arming and drilling them as part of the regular and effective force of our armies, after the example of General Jackson in the defence of New Orleans, and other Southern generals on various occasions in the South. A step like this will be met by a nearly or precisely similar expedient of desperate necessity by the military chieftains of the South. Either with or without the offer of emancipation, they will muster the blacks in great numbers into their army, arming, equipping, and drilling them as thoroughly as the same offices are performed for the white soldiers’.
‘Things may seem to stand much upon this footing, and no great advantage have been gained by the North through emancipation, until, in the event of some great battle, or successively through a series of local contests, the blacks in the Southern army will fraternize with those of the North, and go over in a body to their Northern allies, so soon as the course of events shall have informed them somewhat of the true state of the case, and have given them confidence in the earnest intention of the Northern troops to stand by them in the assertion of their freedom. A defection of this kind would carry dismay and insure defeat throughout the whole South, especially if it were vigorously followed up by the same policy and by adequate military skill on the part of the North; and the result of a war so inaugurated could hardly fail to be the rapid and complete disorganization of the whole system of Southern industry and the total revolution and final submission of the Southern States.
‘No man can exactly foresee the consequences of so great a conflict, nor predict with any certainty the course of events through such an untried and tremendous pathway; but it is next to impossible to conceive that the Southern war-spirit could in any way long survive the disasters inevitably consequent upon the general prevalence of a claim to freedom by the slaves, upon any legal basis, suddenly diffused throughout the South. Should the alternative be forced upon the people of that region, of submission, or servile in addition to civil war, their troubles will thicken upon them to a degree calculated to calm their over-excited imaginations, and to subdue their vaulting ambition. Panic will come to their own doors with a new and all-pervading significance, such as the North hardly knows how to conceive. The North should abstain to the last moment from thrusting even enemies into calamity so dire. But, if the arrogance and madness of the South shall force on us, now or later, this terrific resort, the world may witness, as the result of this war, the most tremendous retribution for national and organic sin which any people has ever yet been called on to endure. The Nemesis of History may, perhaps, impress the darkest record of her terrible sanctions on the page which records the termination of the great American Rebellion.
‘In the event last supposed, that is to say, if the war shall end in the entire extinction of American slavery, the state in which the Southern country, with its diverse populations, will find itself placed; the future destiny of the cotton-growing region, of the South generally; of our whole country, and of the continent, under this immense change of our condition as a nation, are subjects of sufficient importance to demand, on some future occasion, a distinct consideration. Enough points have been crowded, in this article, upon the reflections of the reader. History must not be too audaciously anticipated. The phases of the great crisis, already developed and developing, are sufficiently grave and numerous for the present occasion. Let the future withdraw her own veil from our eyes, while we reverentially await the revelation of coming events.
‘All the forbearance hitherto on the part of the North, may have had in it an element of wisdom. It is not the object of this paper to criticize or complain of the past conduct of the war, nor to urge on the Government to convert a war, begun for the resistance of a violent and fraudulent dismemberment of the Union, into a war against slavery or a crusade in behalf of human rights. There is no present purpose on the part of the writer to conduct the discussion—far less to attempt the decision—of so grave a question of national policy at this eventful and critical epoch in the affairs of our national life. No doubt the subject stands as yet complicated in the minds of statesmen with the possibilities of the early and frank submission of the South, and the consequent early reestablishment substantially of the status quo ante bellum; with the dread of inflicting measureless calamity upon those who are at heart faithful to our cause in the South; and, most of all, with the interests and feelings of the population of the few slave-holding States remaining faithful to the Union. The object of the present article is simply to lay open the true state of the case; to reveal to the Northern mind in a clearer light, if possible, the causes emanating from the South, which have gone and which go still to the formation of Northern opinion adversely to the spirit of our own institutions, and begetting, unconsciously in ourselves, a secret treasonable sympathy at the bottom of our own hearts; a sympathy which is the parent of that otherwise unaccountable tenderness on our part in respect to the patent weakness of the enemy’s defences. It is not that we counsel, for the present, a change in the tenor of the war, but that we wish, as the logic of circumstances shall force this question upon us, that we may come to the consideration of it, in the future, disabused of any preconceived prejudices in favor of that which is the vital source of all the trouble which exists, and fully armed by a complete understanding of the subject.’
So ended the original paper, the same, with a few changes of the tense-forms to adapt it to the present time, as the Part One, published in the last number of THE CONTINENTAL, and Part Two of this series up to this point. The document was written for publication at that time, more than two years ago, but no periodical was found then ready to indulge in such bold speculations on the future. What has now in great part become history, was deemed too audacious for the public ear then. Perhaps no better gauge of the progress of events and opinion could have happened. A magazine article, rejected so recently, as too radical or wild in its prognostications, now stands in danger of being thought tame, in the light of the changes already effected. Thrown into a drawer as refuse matter, it has been like the log of a ship thrown overboard, and remaining quiescent, while the winds, the waves, and the current have combined to surge the vessel onward in her course; and, hauled in by the line at this hour, it may serve to chronicle the rate of our speed.
Events hurry forward in this age with tremendous velocity. Great as has been the progress of our arms, numerous as our warlike achievements and advantages, the real victories we have won are, in the truest method of judging, the victories of opinion which have occurred and are now occurring. Our greatest conquest, as a people, is, and is to be, the conquest over our own prejudices; our highest attainment the readiness to be just, and to act with the boldness and vigor which justice requires.
Taking things as they now are, let us again try to penetrate the future, or at least to sketch different alternatives of what may happen. Let us then try to catch the spirit of each alternative, and so be prepared to draw from the event such of good, and to guard against such of evil as each may involve.
As a first alternative, we may now speedily conquer the South. Insurrection may spring up in the South, against the insurrection there, and in aid of our arms. New vigor and new fortune may attend our own military operations; and our future military task may—somewhat contrary to our expectations, we confess—prove easy, and its conclusion close at hand. In that event, dangers of another kind, dangers already alluded to as existing at the commencement of the war, and hardly less to be apprehended now than then, hardly less, indeed, than the indefinite continuance of war, threaten the future of our political horizon. We may sec in a few months’ time the very men who are leading the armies and the councils of the Southern confederacy again cracking the whip of their sharp and arrogant logic about the ears of the men who had conquered them in the field of battle; claiming to dictate every political measure; forcing the mould of their thought upon every form of opinion, and, by astute political combinations, wielding the destiny of the nation in behalf of slavery and despotism, and against the principle of freedom. Do not imagine for an instant that any considerations of modesty or humiliation on the one hand, nor of haughtiness or pride on the other, would stand in the way of the immediate participation of those men in our affairs. Let there be no delusions either, with regard to the ability of the
same leading class of men to keep themselves in the saddle at the South, through all political changes not involving the absolute destruction of slavery, and the complete and consolidated establishment of other institutions and habits of life among the people at large;—the virtual creation, in fact, of a new and different population, by the blending of our own Northern men and manners with the feeble indigenous freedom-loving growth. The return of this dominant class of cotton lords among the common masses of a Southern population anywhere, on any terms short of the utter extinction of their basis of wealth and distinction, will be the return of an armed overseer to a cowering mob of insubordinate slaves. The mere assertion of their authority will be its instant acceptance, and the most abject submission by the people. They will only have to demand reflection to the National Congress, and to every place of power, to be reinstated in precisely their old position, their arrogance and self- assertion only augmented by their having met and survived every disaster short of the destruction of the source of their superiority.
Already schemes to restore the old State governments are rife, in respect to Louisiana, Mississippi, and other of the rebel States, now again brought within our military lines. Let this be done upon the old footing at an early day, for these States and for the others, which under the hypothesis now under consideration, will soon be subjugated; let the Emancipation Proclamation fall into desuetude; let the military authority of our army officers be withdrawn, and there is nothing in the character of the Southern slaveholding aristocracy, and no other power on earth, to prevent their flocking in crowds and at the very first general election back to Washington, reuniting their forces with the old body of profligate political hacks at the North, and flaunting with increased presumption and activity the pretensions of slavery to dictate the whole policy of the land. In that event, a strong party, more distinctively proslavery and Southern than ever before, will be organized; more openly and shamelessly than ever devoted to the destruction of the last remnant of American liberty. Of course there will be a new reaction against the new usurpation. The conflict will be renewed, beginning precisely where the first war began, with the only exception that the issue will be then more distinctly understood, the conflict more desperate, and the result more definitive.
It is of the utmost importance that the true nature of the case be understood: that this war is no accident of the hour, no merely political or national event even. It is a death struggle between two antagonist civilizations; if indeed one of them can be called a civilization, and not rather a conspiracy against the very idea of civilization. Again, the men involved in that conspiracy are not hidalgos, ancien regime, nor any of the proud aristocracies of the old world, who, when beaten, retire upon their dignity and bide their time. They are, on the contrary, an enterprising gang of desperadoes, who for the nonce may find it convenient to play the role of high life and dignified pretension, but who, on the slightest change of circumstances, are ready for any shift, any seeming degradation or humiliation, any temporary lowering of their claims, in order to rise higher on the next wave. There is also enough of the savage and barbarous element of character remaining in the Southern bogus chivalry to make them, like the Chinaman or the Japanese, incapable of appreciating magnanimity. All conciliation or clemency will be construed into weakness; generosity and forbearance into poltroonery. These are sad truths; but being truths, the failure to know them in season may cost us another and a more desperate war, with more doubtful and dangerous results.
Let us once surrender, through national verdancy, sentimental commiseration, misunderstanding of the nature and purposes of our enemy, or any or all of these causes combined with others, the dear-bought advantages we have won, and disasters untold involve the future of the land. Terrible beyond description will be, in that event, the condition of the Union and emancipationist party now incipiently developing itself at the South;—abandoned and deserted by the withdrawal of the actual presence and protection of Northern arms. No barbarism on earth, no savagism extant, is so barbarous or so savage as the ruthless vengeance with which this hybrid civilization of the South is ready at any time to visit the crime of abolitionism; and seven times hotter than usual will the furnace of their wrath be heated against Southern men who under the aegis of Northern protection shall have exhibited some sympathy with freedom.
That a powerful Northern party will immediately arise in behalf of the simple readmission of the Southern States, upon precisely the old basis, when the war shall end by the suppression of the rebellion, is certain. The existence of such a party will rest, in part, upon a real sympathy with the South and the rebellion; partly upon interested political motives of a more ordinary and short-sighted character; and, in still greater part than either of these, upon the easy credence and insufficient information of the great mass of the Northern people; somewhat, indeed, upon a magnanimity highly creditable to their character as men, but unwise and dangerous in the extreme, in any exercise of it which should surrender a vital advantage.
It does not require even that the complete reconquest of the South should be awaited in order that the question of the return of subdued States into the Union upon the old terms should be sprung upon the nation, and perhaps decided, by a precedent, before the attention of the country can be thoroughly directed to the momentous nature of the step proposed. The New York Herald has been hitherto a steady and consistent advocate of this policy, and a powerful agitator in its behalf. The following extract from its columns indicates the imminence of the issue, as well as the simple and seemingly reasonable political machinery by which the whole thing is to be effected:
‘It appears from the correspondence to which we have referred that certain citizens of New Orleans, some of whose names are given elsewhere, have resolved to restore Louisiana to the Union, and that they intend to do this in the manner pointed out by Secretary Seward in his famous reply to the intervention despatch of M. Drouyn de Lhuys. That is to say, they intend to Bet the State Government in motion, elect members of the Legislature, and send loyal representatives to Congress. These gentlemen assert—and the Tribune does not deny—that Mr. Seward and Mr. Bates indorse this idea, and that Mr. Etheridge, as Clerk of the House of Representatives, has consented to receive the loyal members from Louisiana, upon their own credentials, until the House is organized. They also say—and the Tribune does not deny—that Mr. Etheridge has a perfect right to do this upon the precedent established by the Broad Seal controversy, some twenty years ago. Under these circumstances, the Union men propose to hold an election for five members of Congress—one from each district and one on the general ticket —and also for members of the State Senate and Assembly. ‘They are anxious,’ says the Tribune correspondent, ‘that Louisiana shall take the lead in this matter, and there is no doubt but Mississippi and the other States will, in due time, follow.’ So far, the patriotic reader will search in vain for any objection to a plan which promises Bo much good for the Union, and will be at a loss to know upon what grounds the Tribune can oppose it with any show of loyalty.’
It is no part of the object of this writing to discuss the legality or the constitutionality of any course of proceeding in the premises. What can be done and what cannot be done under the law, as it stands, is a question for lawyers and judges. How far, if at all, the exigency has annulled or modified the law; how far the axiom, inter arma silent leges (‘in war the laws are silent’), shall be stretched to cover the case, is a question for statesmen and military commanders. The writer of these strictures speaks from none of those points of view, but as a social philosopher, viewing the drifts of inevitable consequence from one or the other grand policy in respect to the national destiny—irrespective of the minor measures by which it may be executed. A course utterly suicidal, viewed from this higher platform of observation, may proceed with the most unimpeachable subserviency to all the forms of the law; or, contrariwise, a policy replete with the highest prosperity and happiness of the coming ages, may chance to have its foundations laid in some startling deviation from all considerations of precedent and routine.
In other words, what can be done or cannot be done under the law, or without violence to the law, is not now the question under consideration. What must be done, whether under the law or above the law, to secure certain great ends of human progression, and to avoid positions of utter disaster to the life of the American people of the future, is so.
Whether the theory of Mr. Sumner, that the revolted States are, by the operation of the revolt, or should be by the action of the Government, remanded to the territorial condition, holds good; whether the theory of Mr. Owen, that the machinery of the State Governments at the South remains unaffected by the insurrection, but that the inhabitants, being traitors, are incapable of administering it, until they are purged of their treason by the action of the United States Government, is held to be the better opinion; or, whether, in fine, the easy and simple theory of the Herald is the law of the subject—none of these points is the point of the present investigation. We seek to fix attention on the consequences of the act of an early readmission of the revolted States, and, what would be the same thing, of the old and governing set of slaveholding politicians, from those States, into the administration of our national affairs, no matter what should be the method of its accomplishment. In that event, the war will not be ended, but smothered merely, and left smouldering. It will burst out again, and all that has been done hitherto will have to be done over again, or fail to be accomplished, and the consequences of failure endured.
Let no ordinary and superficial method of reasoning obfuscate the public mind on this subject. It is becoming popular to say and to think, that slavery at the South is already a dead or a dying institution, by the operation of the war. This opinion has in it, undoubtedly, the value of a prophecy, provided the war be continued to its legitimate termination; provided all the measures against slavery hitherto adopted are firmly maintained; provided the incipient anti-slavery sentiment now being developed in the South, be wisely fostered and protected by the strong arm long enough, or until new institutions and new methods of thinking and acting have time to consolidate. But, whoever supposes that slavery is as yet even essentially weakened, provided, for any reason, our forces and the influence of Northern sentiment were suddenly withdrawn from the South, and the ocean waves of the old despotism were for a moment even permitted to surge back over those portions of the territory which have been partially redeemed, has no adequate idea of the tremendous vitality of that institution.
A mistake on this subject, of the safe early return of the revolted States, will be one of those political blunders worse than a crime; and yet it is precisely this mistake which the American people are at this hour most likely to commit. A latent love of Southern institutions per se; the hope of personal political advantage, among politicians, by an alliance with Southern leaders, on the part of others who care nothing for the South as such; a lingering tenderness, a forgiving magnanimity and generosity, among the people at large, which would in this case be wholly misplaced; and finally an easy faith in the extent and irrevocable nature of the successes already accomplished—all concur to lead on to the commission of this error.
Talk as we will of the purposes of this war, the hand of destiny is upon us. We must accept the rôle of emancipators and champions of human freedom, or the only alternative will happen, the loss of our own liberties and the forfeiture of our national office as the leader of Progress combined with Order, on the planet. We have to deal with an implacable, a subtle, and a versatile enemy, wholly committed to the opposite cause; unscrupulous, inappreciative of magnanimity or concession of any kind; restrained by no considerations whatsoever short of the accomplishment of his absolute and tyrannical will. We have this enemy nearly prostrate under our feet, and we stand hesitating whether to avail ourselves of our advantage or to stultify ourselves at the tribunal of the world and of history, by allowing him to rise, to repossess himself of his arms, and to recommence the conflict upon terms of equal advantage.
A glance at the remaining alternative outcomings of the war must be reserved for another article.