To every one who takes this view of the feelings which ought to exist between England and the United States, it must be matter of sincere regret that anything should diminish the friendliness of our relations. There is, however, reason to fear that the Americans have been deeply mortified by the feeling with which the secession of the Southern States has been regarded in this country; and if newspaper articles are taken as sufficient evidence of public feeling on the subject, it must be admitted that the feeling, if not wise, is at least intelligible. Our principal journals have, no doubt, uniformly treated the disruption of the Union and the prospect of civil war as great evils; but they have frequently taken a ground which is not in itself reasonable, and which to all Americans, and especially to all Northerners, must be excessively offensive, respecting the whole dispute. They almost invariably discuss the subject as if the case were the simple one of a dependency wishing to free itself from the yoke of a superior, and they constantly dwell upon that most inconclusive and irritating of all topics, the charge of inconsistency. With what pretence of fairness, it is said, can you Americans object to the secession of the Southern States, when your own nation was founded in secession from the British empire? It would be as reasonable to ask how a man, who has successfully defended one action, can ever have the face to be plaintiff in another. The fact, that resistance to a constituted government may sometimes be right, no more proves that it can never be wrong, than the fact that it is right to shoot an invader proves that there is no such crime as murder. The analogy between George III. and Washington, and President Lincoln and President Davis, is just near enough to be at once delusive and annoying. If the object is to vex the Americans, and chuckle with more or less ingenuity over their troubles, the course which our most influential papers have taken is a wise one. If we wish to understand the merits of the question, and the way in which it presents itself to those whom it principally concerns, we must take a very different view of it.
To Englishmen in general, American politics present a sort of maze without a plan. The strange names of Indian places and rulers were described by Sydney Smith as non-conductors of sympathy, and in American politics a somewhat similar effect is produced by the opposite cause. There is nothing impressive in the names of the politicians, and nothing distinctive in their measures. Men are elected to high office, who, beyond their own State, were utterly unknown; and the announcement of their respective " platforms " and "tickets" leaves most English readers of American news as hopelessly in the dark as if it were made in some unknown tongue.
Much of this confusion is undoubtedly due to the general ignorance which prevails in this country as to the nature and gist of American politics. Hardly any one knows what is the real nature of the Union— how it is related to the individual States—what are the sort of questions which arise out of that relation, and what would be implied in its disruption. In the absence of a clear general view of these matters, it is idle to attempt to form an opinion on the present condition of the seceding States, or to criticize the policy of those who wish either to destroy or to maintain the Union by force of arms. It is the object of this paper to give a general sketch of these matters in relation to the present state of affairs. The United States of America formed, up to the time of the late secession, a body politic of an unexampled kind. Both in ancient and modern times confederacies have frequently been established. The old German empire, the existing Germanic Confederation, Switzerland, and the Dutch United Provinces, are instances. The United States of America are distinguished from other confederacies by the circumstance that they exercise a direct jurisdiction not only over the States, but also over the individuals who compose those States. This distinction is one of practical and substantial importance; and without a distinct notion of the way in which it works the character of the Union and its politics can hardly be understood. Its leading features are shortly as follows.
The colonial history of the United States supplies several instances in which they associated themselves together for common defence. The New England colonies did so in the seventeenth century, and their association lasted without the notice of the mother country for forty years. Another union of a somewhat similar kind was attempted in the course of the eighteenth century, not out of any feeling of hostility to Great Britain, but simply for purposes of mutual assistance. During the War of Independence a third confederacy was formed, by the help of which the struggle with England was brought to a successful conclusion. Subsequently to the year 1783 the league between the thirteen States continued under another form; but their connection, as in former cases, was nothing more than a confederacy the units of which were States, and not individuals. The constitution which is at present undergoing the process of dissolution was framed by the principal statesmen of the nation in 1787, and by June, 1790, was finally ratified and accepted by all the States. No one who reads it with attention, and follows out its practical application in the subsequent history and present condition of the States, can fail to see that the language common amongst Englishmen in relation to the dissolution of the Union proceeds upon an inadequate notion of the importance of the benefits which the constitution confers, the magnitude of the interests which it protects, and the practical importance of the questions which would be at once raised by its dissolution. There cannot be a greater mistake than that of viewing the States as a mere league, some of the members of which are struggling to retain the rest as allies against their will; or as a sort of transatlantic Austria, insisting on the subjugation of a transatlantic Venice.
The following sketch of the principal provisions of the constitution may serve to give a definite notion of what it is for which the Northerners are preparing to fight. Every one knows that the United States are governed by a President and a Congress, consisting of two Houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives; but viewing them, as we naturally do, principally from without, the way in which the powers of government are divided between Congress and the State legislatures, and the consequences which that division involves, are less familiar to us.
The powers conferred by the constitution on Congress are as follows. It may impose taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, which, however, must be uniform on all the inhabitants of the States. It may borrow money on the credit of the United States of America. It may regulate commerce, lay down a general rule of naturalization, regulate the coinage, and punish offences relating to it. It has also the care of post-offices and post roads, and the superintendence of copyright, both in books and in inventions. It has jurisdiction over offences committed at sea. It has the power of war and peace, the control of the United States' army and navy, and military law. It regulates the calling out and the organization of the State militia for common purposes. It is the sole government of the district of Columbia, in which Washington is situated; and it has power to make laws binding on the individual citizens of every State in the Union, for the purpose of executing any of these powers. All sovereign powers not included under these heads are reserved to the individual States, but they are expressly prohibited from exercising their sovereignty in certain ways. No State may enter into alliances, or make peace or war, or emit bills of credit, or make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts, or pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts, or grant any title of nobility.
It has not been uncommon in Europe for States to give themselves constitutions which have been ridiculed in this country (often not reasonably) on the ground that the provisions which had the largest sound were in fact mere empty words. This cannot be said of the American constitution. Its practical efficiency is secured by the only means which can secure it—the institution of independent courts of justice bound to put a judicial construction upon its provisions, and armed with the powers necessary to make that construction prevail in fact. These courts treat the constitution as they would treat any other law, and freely exercise the power of deciding whether the acts of the individual States, or even those of Congress itself, are unconstitutional and therefore illegal. The courts in question are divisible into three classes. In the first class stands the Supreme Court of the United States; in the second are the circuit courts; and in the third, the district courts. The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in diplomatic cases, in admiralty and maritime cases, in cases arising between individual States, and in cases in which the United States are a party. It also entertains appeals from the circuit and district courts. The circuit courts and district courts are local, and closely resemble each other in the general character of their jurisdiction, though the circuit courts are the more important of the two. They entertain all civil causes above 500 dollars in which the United States is a party, or in which an alien is a party, or in which the citizen of one State sues the citizen of another. They have also criminal jurisdiction in all cases in which the offence is committed against the laws of the United States, and they decide questions relating to revenue laws and the laws of patents and copyrights. In the territories which are not yet formed into States the law is administered by district courts.
The consequence of this system is, that in relation to all the mass of powers conferred upon Congress by the constitution, the citizens of the United States are governed by, and are in their individual capacity responsible to, the authorities of the United States to the exclusion of those of their own States, and in many points they can appeal not only from the law courts, but from the State legislatures, to the general law of the United States. For example: Dartmouth College obtained from the Supreme Court a decision that a law of the State of New Hampshire, by which its charter was altered without its consent, was void, as being opposed to that article of the constitution which prohibits the States from "passing laws impairing the obligation of contracts." In the same manner another State assigned lands for the use of the Indians, and declared that those lands should not be taxed. The land was afterwards sold to other persons, and after the sale the State repealed the law freeing the land from taxation. This law was held to be void on the same ground.
The constitutional right of Congress to tax carriages in a particular manner, to tax unrepresented districts, to pass a law giving debts to the United States priority over others, and to incorporate a national bank, are instances of the sort of questions on which the Supreme Court has given judicial decisions. These decisions, whether they are between State and State, between the United States and some particular State, or between States and individuals, are enforced by regular executive officers like any other judicial decisions.
The practical consequences of the system, of which these are a few of the most prominent features, are far more important than the language which we generally use about it would imply. We are so much accustomed to the extraordinary rapidity with which the United States advance in wealth and power, that we are a little apt to look upon their prosperity as an ultimate fact requiring no explanation. In fact, like everything else, it has its causes, and, no doubt, one of the most important of them is the influence of the Union. There can be no doubt that it contributes immensely to the prosperity of every State which belongs to it, and that its maintenance forms almost the only means by which the settlement and government of the continent can be provided for. In the first place, so long as it exists, war between any of the States which compose it is impossible. If we recollect what has been the general character of the history of modern Europe, this in itself must be considered as an advantage which can hardly be bought too dear. In the next place, it provides every American citizen with a sphere of activity unequalled for extent and variety in the history of mankind. He may make his choice between more than thirty great nations, of any one of which he can, by mere residence, constitute himself a citizen. In each of them he is as much at home as an Englishman in Ireland, if not more. In each he is, to a great extent, under the same laws; he enjoys the same political rights; and the most important of these are guaranteed by all the other members of the Union. Under any circumstances, these would be valuable results; but, under the special circumstances of North America, their value is greatly enhanced. The population is by far the most migratory in the world. It is inordinately bent upon every kind of enterprise by which money is to be made, and the consequence is that anything which could shackle the free movement of the people to any part of the country, or diminish the ease with which they can at present establish themselves wherever they please, would be intolerable to them. The existence of the Union favours these tendencies in the highest degree. Its dissolution would place a serious check upon them. The existing constitution not only protects the whole of the United States from intestine war, but gives to each of them, and to all the citizens of each, rights which are unexampled elsewhere. We are so much accustomed to think and speak of the United States as a single nation, that we forget the means by which they gained, and by which (if at all) they must retain, that character. There is no other part of the world in which communities larger and more powerful than most nations can settle their differences with each other and with individuals by the ordinary course of law, in the proper sense of the word, and not by diplomatic negotiations. It is, for many purposes, as easy to sue or to be sued by the semi-sovereign States of the American Union as to sue or be sued by an English corporation; and this circumstance enables a set of relations to be formed amongst them which do not exist elsewhere, and invests them, when they are formed, with guarantees which but for the existence of the Union could not be given. When we remember the vital importance which, under the special circumstances of the country, attaches to roads, railways, the navigation of the great rivers and lakes, and other matters, in each of which numerous half-independent States have different and often jarring interests, the practical importance of a system of judicature by which their relations may be regulated becomes apparent. Probably there is no considerable commercial company in the Union which would not find the security of its property depreciated, and its power of enforcing its rights and guaranteeing the discharge of its obligations sensibly diminished, by the dissolution of the Union, and the closing of the Federal courts.
With regard to foreign politics, the matter is too plain for doubt. The dissolution of the Union would go far to destroy altogether the diplomatic influence and external political power of the United States; and, indeed, some influential writers have gone so far as to maintain that such a result ought to be regarded in this country not merely with equanimity but with satisfaction. It would, we are told, diminish the insolence and the swagger which so often offend foreigners. Whatever truth there may be in this, it must be gall and wormwood to Americans.
Such being the general nature and advantages of the Union, it is not to be expected that the Americans in general should view its dissolution with equanimity; nor can there be a doubt that if they mean to resist it by force, now is the time at which that force must be used. If the Southern States were allowed to secede without resistance, the Union would be at an end, and it is impossible to predict where the process of dissolution would stop. The history of the Union shows that slavery is by no means the only question which may threaten its integrity. At the time of the Hartford Convention the New England States seriously threatened secession. If the Southerners succeed in their present undertaking, it is highly probable that the Western States, of which the Mississippi is the natural outlet, may follow their example, and if they did so the process might easily go farther.
These considerations explain the importance which the Americans attach to the Union, and the necessity under which they are placed of defending it by force at this point if they mean to defend it at all. It is urged in opposition to this, that it is inconsistent in republicans to attempt to force men to continue members of a community which they wish to leave, and that it is particularly inconsistent in the Americans to do so, because they owe their own national existence to a revolt against Great Britain. There are several independent answers to this argument, each of which ought to prevent either bona fide inquirers or accurate reasoners from using it. In the first place, it proves nothing, for the question is not whether the Americans are consistent, but whether they are right—that is, whether they are taking the course which is, on the whole, best and wisest. To charge them with inconsistency, even if the charge were true, could produce nothing but irritation; for if such a charge were made out, it would come to this: "You are quite right in trying to reduce the South to obedience, tut you must admit that the principles which your grandfathers fought for in 1776 were false." If they are right, what is the use of vexing them. about their grandfathers? If they are wrong, why increase the difficulty of convincing them by undertaking to show that the error is condemned by the example of their grandfathers? The whole argument is invidious, and serves no other purpose than that of creating prejudice and rancour.
In the second place the charge is altogether untrue. The tone of jovial, half-chuckling banter which is the curse of newspaper writing, so much obscures the arguments which are put forward on this subject, that it is generally difficult to do exact justice to them. Sometimes it appears as if the writer meant to say that under a republican form of government no one ought to be made to do anything he disliked. This, of course, would be fatal not only to the rights of such governments to suppress insurrection, but to their right to administer civil or criminal justice. At other times the ground taken appears to be substantially this—that republican institutions generally, and the government of the United States in particular, are founded on the principle that every body of men competent in point of number and local situation to form an independent political body, has a right, as against any other body of which it forms a part, to announce its intention of doing so, and immediately to carry that intention into execution, and that the body of which it forms a part has no right forcibly to prevent it. This, it is asserted, is the only principle on which the American Declaration of Independence can be justified, and it equally justifies the Confederate States in seceding from the Union.
This argument proceeds on an entire misconception of the principles by which nations ought to regulate their relations to each other. The conduct of independent communities towards each other must, on all occasions of importance, be regulated not by rule, but by direct reference to the principles upon which rules are founded; that is to say, by the direct consideration of the consequences of the particular act; and it is by this principle, and not in virtue of some imaginary right, that successful resistance to constituted authorities is to be justified. The establishment of American independence was, on the whole, a good thing both for Great Britain and for the United States; and this, and this only, was the justification of those who contributed to it. How does it follow from this that the secession of the Southern States would also be justifiable? The only intelligible meaning of which the principle under consideration is capable is, that the original State ought always to consider itself practically bound by the opinion of the revolting State, that the success of their revolt is for the common good; which is manifestly absurd. There are, in truth (as might be shown by independent arguments), no such thing as rights between communities, and it is therefore absurd to charge the United States with their violation. The conduct of both, or of either party, may be wise, beneficial, honourable, deceitful, foolish, or injurious; but, apart from the express rights conferred by the constitution, which, as far as they go, are beyond all doubt in favour of the Northern States, there is, and can be, no question of right between them.
This mode of viewing the subject is that which might properly be applied to the case of a European power in which the relations between the governors and the governed have never been explicitly determined, but depend upon general principles of reasoning. For example, if Ireland were to proclaim its independence, they would supply the means of forming an opinion about it. In America the case is altogether different. There is no question of oppression; there is no assertion that the South has been in any way threatened or injured; and, on the other hand, there is a constitution solemnly instituted only seventy-five years ago, under which the Southerners have acted ever since, of which they have reaped every advantage to the very utmost, and which they now claim a right to throw to the winds, without assigning any other cause than their own will to do so. Their case is not that of resistance to authority, legitimate or illegitimate; it is the wrongful repudiation of a relationship which they have no right to dissolve. It is as if a wife, after henpecking her husband for twenty years, claimed a right to divorce him.
The whole history of the question of slavery and of the party questions connected with it for the last forty years are proofs of this. (See Miss Martinean's pamphlet, A History of the American Compromises. Reprinted, with additions, from the Daily News. Chapman, 1856.) It is far less familiar to Englishmen than from its importance it deserves to be. The names, indeed, of the Missouri Compromise, Mason and Dixie's Line, the Border Ruffians, and the War in Kansas, are familiar enough to us all, but hardly any one attaches any definite meaning to them. The subject, however, forms a connected whole, and when its bearings are understood, it throws great light on the present proceedings, both of the North and of the South. In order to understand the matter, it is necessary to say a few words as to the constitution of Congress. Each State has in the House of Representatives one member for every 30,000 inhabitants. Three-fifths of the slaves count as inhabitants, and by this means the Southerners, though their white population is far smaller than the population of the Northern States, have about as many representatives. Moreover, each State, large or small, sends two representatives to the Senate.
When the constitution was established, slave-holding was nearly universal; but it was acknowledged by all the leading statesmen of the day, that it was an evil, though they described it as an inherited, and for the time an inevitable one. In the Northern States, where the slaves were few, and where white labour could obviously compete with that of negroes, slavery was rapidly abolished, and by degrees the distinction between slave and free States came to coincide with the distinction between North and South. As this gradually became the leading feature in American politics, the Southern States exerted themselves to the utmost to obtain a majority, or, at any rate, to secure an equality of votes, in the Senate. The only way in which this could be done was by adding to the Union as many slave States as possible. As Miss Martineau truly says, "the key to the entire policy of the United States for the last quarter of a century is the effort of the South to maintain a majority in the Senate at Washington." The original United States, as is well known, were thirteen in number, namely, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Maryland. The western boundaries of several of these, and especially those of Virginia, were almost entirely undefined. Soon after the recognition of independence, the boundaries of Virginia were fixed, the lands excluded thrown into a common stock, and an arrangement was made that slavery should never be established on them. Whether or no this arrangement was constitutional, is a question which has been much discussed, but it was made and has been acted on. Several States, including Ohio, Kentucky, and others, were formed out of them.
In 1803, the immense territory of Louisiana, which included not only the State so named, but districts subsequently formed into several others, was purchased by the United States from France; and in 1819, the State of Missouri, which had formed part of this territory, applied for admission to the Union, and a great debate arose as to the terms on which it was to be admitted. If it was admitted as a slave State, slavery would be in a majority in the Senate; if not, in a minority. Ultimately, it was admitted as a slave State; but, at the same time, it was provided that slavery should be prohibited in every other part of the Union north of 36° 30' north latitude (which is known as Mason and Dixie's line). This arrangement was made in 1819, and is the well-known Missouri compromise. Its effect was to make slavery distinctly a Southern institution, and from that time the great effort of Southern politicians has been to get into the Union as many States as possible south of 36° 30'. This was the object of almost all Southern policy for many years, and in particular was the secret of the annexation of Texas, which it was intended to form into five States, sending ten members to the Senate. At last the North, which in political warfare has always been far inferior in skill and energy to the South, tried to counteract this by adding free States on the other hand. This gave rise to what was known as the compromise of 1850. California was added on the terms of choosing its own constitution, and it chose against slavery; but this was counterbalanced by the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law. In 1854, the Missouri compromise was repealed, and new States, whether north or south of 36° 30', were allowed to choose whether they would permit slavery or not. This was at the time when Kansas and Nebraska, both of which lay to the north of that line, were on the point of becoming States. Great efforts were made, both by the North and by the South, to determine the inhabitants of Kansas to vote for slavery. On the one side, the Northerners supplied settlers; on the other, the Southerners instigated the "mean whites," who form the most degraded class in the Southern States, to enter the territory and force the choice of the electors—an object which they effected after outrages of various kinds, which broke out at one time into a sort of small civil war.
Such have been the leading events of the controversy between the North and the South during the last forty years. Throughout the greater part, and especially throughout the latter part of it, the South have had, beyond all comparison, the larger share of the influence and power of the Union. Every successive President, for many years past, has more or less represented Southern views. The whole course of Federal legislation has been in the interests of the South. The foreign policy of the Union, especially its American policy, has been usually dictated principally by their wish to add new slave States to the Union; and even the decrees of the Supreme Court have not been free from traces of Southern influence. Many circumstances have contributed to put the South in this position; the most remarkable being the comparatively small number and superior adroitness of the Southern planters, who have much greater political aptitude and more independence than the Northern statesmen—the simplicity and directness of their political objects—and, above all, their comparative indifference to the maintenance of the Union. Though they have enjoyed to the utmost all the advantages which the Union had to give—though they have directed its policy, forced the Northern States, in the case of the Fugitive Slave Law, to discharge humiliating functions for them, and gone far towards effecting the object, to borrow a well-known expression, of "making slavery national and freedom sectional," they care far less about the Union than the Northerners. They enjoy over them all the advantages which a simple society has over one which is at once wealthy, ambitious, and complex. The planter's pursuits are so simple that the considerations which influence other Americans affect him but slightly. Whatever becomes of the rest of the Union, he can grow and sell his cotton, so long as he has slaves and customers. He cares, and has reason to care, comparatively little for the enterprises which excite a passionate enthusiasm amongst the Northerners, and which tend to the conversion of the whole continent, in the shortest possible space of time, into one enormous hive of moderate comfort. To the North, the dissolution of the Union means the establishment of internal frontiers, the destruction of the Federal jurisdiction, and with it a severe shock to all sorts of commercial enterprises, the opening of fruitful sources of jealousy, and the diminution of the external prestige of the nation. To the South it means nothing very formidable. As secession would be their act, and not that of their rivals, it would not hurt, but rather flatter, their national pride. They would have it in their power to reopen the slave trade; and as their internal enterprises are few, in comparison with those of the North, they would care comparatively little for the destruction of the Federal jurisdiction. These circumstances have enabled the Southerners for years to hold the threat of dissolving the Union over the North as a means of coercion, and there can be no doubt at all that the threat has been most effective. For a long period Northern politicians have made every sort of concession to the South, in order to avoid the question which is now forced upon them, for no assignable reason except that for the first time for the last quarter of a century a Northern president has been chosen.
It is scarcely possible to imagine any state of things more insufferable to men of spirit than such a course of conduct as this. Indeed in many of the steps of the long struggle between the North and the South it is impossible to deny that the Northerners showed great want of resolution, and down to the attack on Fort Sumter they continued to display a degree of forbearance which was hardly dignified. It is of course difficult, if not impossible, for any one who was not in America, or who had not an intimate personal knowledge of the state of feeling there, to express any positive opinion as to the course of the extraordinary change which that transaction produced. It seems, however, to be like the case of a man who, after putting up with all sorts of hard words and rough conduct, is interrupted in the midst of expostulations and offers of compromise by a box on the ear. Some ridicule was cast by the English papers on what was described as the unstatesmanlike and technically legal view of the question between the North and South, and of the way in which it was to be treated, which the President put forward in his proclamation on taking office. Some of our most influential newspaper writers thought that it fell below the occasion, and that a manifesto announcing a course of policy based on general considerations would have been more appropriate. Such criticisms betray ignorance of the fundamental principles of the American constitution. The consequence of the institution of the Supreme and Federal courts, and of the reduction of the constitution to the form of a written document technically interpreted by professional lawyers, has been to remove numerous questions which we treat as questions of policy to the domain of strict law, and to invest legal doctrines with a prominence and importance unknown to any other nation. So long as no actual physical force was applied to the property or forces of the Union, the Federal law was not broken. The crime of treason is defined to consist in "levying war against the United States, or adhering to their enemies only." The President has well-defined legal powers and responsibilities, and is bound by oath to act upon them. It is, therefore, natural enough that both he and the Northern States generally should have submitted patiently to acts on the part of the Southern States which no Continental government would have permitted on the part of any member of the nation, and which even in the British Islands would have been illegal.
The eagerness with which the Northerners deprecated "coercion" in the early stages of the business, probably showed little more than reluctance to strike the first blow. A parallel might have arisen in England in the days of the Irish volunteers before the Union. It would have been quite consistent, then, for the newspapers and men of business to entreat the Government to take every possible means of avoiding collision, to allow the volunteers to assemble and the Irish Parliament to pass any resolutions it pleased, and yet to burst out into any degree of indignation and excitement if the English troops had been actually attacked and the Lord Lieutenant shipped back to England. It is very probable that Englishmen would have been less forbearing before the blow was struck, and less noisy afterwards; but this is a mere question of temperament.
These remarks show that the Northerners are entitled to more sympathy than they have received from the most influential part of the English press. They are fighting for an object of real importance. If they were to fight at all, now is their time, and they have received for many years past a series of provocations of the most exasperating kind. It does not, however, follow from this that they are wise in fighting, nor does it follow that they have any just ground to complain of the conduct which our Government has pursued towards them. The wisdom of fighting depends principally on the prospect of success; and on that point, there can be no doubt of the great weight of the arguments pressed on the Northern States by several English papers, and especially with admirable vigour and great knowledge by the Economist. These difficulties may be summed up in one. The constitution of the United States proceeds on the assumption that each member of the Union wishes to maintain it. To enforce it in invitos is very like a contradiction in terms. Suppose that the South is utterly defeated and crushed in the field, and that Mr. Davis and some others are hanged for treason; and, further, suppose that in the year 1864 the South succeeds, as it has so often succeeded, in electing a Southern President and out-manoeuvring the North: the result would be grotesque if it were not so melancholy. It would be precisely as if a man sued successfully for the restitution of conjugal rights against a woman who, after making his life a burden to him, had left him without cause. No doubt he would get the advantage of her company at bed and board, but who would wish for it? To enforce conjugal rights against a woman bent on making her husband wretched, is in a most emphatic way cutting off one's nose to be revenged on one's face, and, to a cool observer, the process now going on in the States is of much the same character. This assumes success, but another familiar proverb shows how doubtful even such success as this must be. One man may take a hone to the water, but twenty cannot make him drink. If they are so minded, the North have a fair prospect of being able to crush the Southern armies, to take their forts, and to reduce any cities which may hold out; but how will they make them send members to Congress, recognize the jurisdiction of the Federal courts, and admit the Federal officers who administer the offices vested by the constitution in the Congress? A permanent military occupation of every town and village in all the Southern States would be necessary to carry out these objects; and this seems to English observers to be altogether out of the question. If this difficulty were overcome, the State legislatures would still be protected by the very constitution which the army of occupation would come to enforce; nor would it be possible, without fatal inconsistency, to prohibit free discussion in newspapers, public meetings, and the like. All this would be fatal to continuous compulsion.
These observations are so obvious and weighty, that any considerate Englishman would, as far as his private opinion went, be decided by them; but those who insist upon them with so much force ought to remember that there is another side to the subject. To advise brave and high-spirited men to permit, or not to resist, the forcible, wrongful destruction of institutions to which they rightly attach the highest value, on the ground that it is extremely difficult to maintain them, is what men who recognize the claims of courage and spirit ought to be loth to do. That the North has right on its side, there can be no doubt. That it has sustained grievous wrongs and insults, is equally plain. Surely it is a question rather for them than for us, whether there is a reasonable prospect of redressing those wrongs by force of arms. A nation, like an individual, may easily overrate difficulties. It is by no means clear that the tone of the South will be so haughty as it is at present, or that their determination to resist will be unanimous after they have felt the weight of the Northern army. There is no doubt on each side a superabundance of the very fiercest kind of talk, and of protestations of unflinching constancy; but it by no means follows that it would survive the horrors of battles and sieges, and the awful prospect of servile insurrection. At any rate, no one can know whether it will or not till they try. Ireland would have been independent long ago if we had taken the advice of disinterested foreigners about it. In 1857 many writers on the Continent and in the United States supposed that they had proved in the most convincing manner that we never could reconquer India. Nothing that is worth keeping in this world can be kept without an effort; and it is premature to say that fighting is of no use till it has been fairly tried. We have a fair right to dwell on all the difficulties and horrors of the task; but in common justice it must be admitted that the North are fighting in a good cause and for a high stake.
Though it would be hard to deny that some injustice has been done to the Northerners by the tone of the most influential of our newspapers, nothing can be more false in substance or rude in manner than the imputations thrown by the Americans on the policy of the English government. There is something so puerile in the notion that the recognition of the belligerent rights of the Southerners involves an approval of their proceedings, that it is difficult to argue seriously against it. Unless the Northerners mean to execute their prisoners as murderers and traitors, they must treat them as belligerents. That is, they must recognize the very rights which they blame us for recognizing. No doubt their real grievance is that their vanity has been wounded by the manner in which their performances have been criticized by English writers. The preceding observations are intended to show how far they have a just cause of complaint, but it is highly probable that the fact that we have not taken their demonstrations in quite the same heroic vein as that in which they are made has had as much to do with their ill-temper and bad manners, as the misconception as to the true state of the case, which certainly has pervaded much of our current literature. For this cause of offence no apology and no regret is due. One of the principal services which one nation can render to another, especially where their language and literature are identical, is that of letting them know when they are exposing themselves. In America, both politics and periodical literature have fallen, to a great extent, into the hands of an ill-educated class. The excessive vulgarity of a great part of what they say and write gives far too low a notion of the strong points of the American character, and has a fatal tendency to make their policy as unworthy a representative of the real powers of their minds as their literature unquestionably is. It is very desirable that every reasonable opportunity should be taken of showing the noisy and ill-bred people who have constituted themselves the representatives of the opinions and feelings of the United States, that we rate them exactly at what they are worth, and that their brag and fustian have just as much and just as little effect upon us as the raw-head-and-bloody-bones swagger which were the precursors of the famous battle of the cabbage-garden in 1848. The proposal that the North and South should forget their differences in a joint piratical attack upon Canada and Cuba, is worthy only of the infamous source from which it proceeds. Those who make it ought to recollect that something more than newspaper articles will be wanted to conquer a British colony. Hard words seem at present to be more in their line than broken bones, and they are much less to the purpose.
Cornhill Magazine, August 1861.