The Slave Power: its Character, Career, and Probable Designs (by J.E. Cairnes, 1863)
A more momentous subject for discussion than the question how Englishmen ought to feel in relation to the American contest has never, perhaps, been offered to those who have the ear of a nation. The usual commonplaces about the power of the public press almost cease to be commonplace when they are applied to it. The great peculiarity of the relation between England and America is that English writers represent their country in American eyes to a degree in which no other writers ever represented any other country. For reasons sufficiently obvious to attentive observers, literature in general, and periodical literature in particular, occupies a higher relative position in England than in America. No paper —no ten papers, are to America what the Times is to England. Journalism in all its forms is with them the occupation of a lower class than with us; and the same may be said of literature of a permanent kind. Hence what is written here is read there, and carries with it a degree of weight which has seldom attached to ephemeral productions; for there is no doubt at all that, whatever may be the case in other respects, we have the upper hand in literature. What might be the result of our fighting the Americans no one can tell; but that, at all events, we can outwrite them is proved by daily experience. This is one reason why they attach such intense importance to our sympathy. They are deeply persuaded that the most highly educated class in England are better instructed, more accomplished, more polished than any class in the United States; and though they may believe that this class is a small one, though they may think that its gifts are obtained at the expense of larger classes which are not so well off as the corresponding classes in their own country, they are not less anxious for its approval and sympathy. They know that the most influential English journals address themselves to this class, and are to a considerable extent written by members of it, and they are accordingly keenly alive to their praise or blame.
Not only are the Americans intensely anxious for our sympathy, but their own feelings towards us are of the utmost importance to both countries. Perhaps there never were two nations whose relations depended so much on sentimental considerations. We may be good enough friends for practical purposes with almost any continental people, whether we like them or not. The bulk of the population has so very little communication with us that their sympathies are of small importance, and the respective governments can and do regulate their attitude towards each other according to circumstances. The difference, for instance, between French and English is as great as ever it was; but it is a difference which in no degree troubles the two governments in making their respective arrangements. We care singularly little whether the French like us or not, and the indifference is mutual. Our alliance is founded on totally different grounds. With the Americans matters are entirely different. The mass of the people is King; and the King is keenly alive to the view taken of him and his proceedings by his fine relations over the water, and his feelings act not only strongly but promptly on his conduct.
For these reasons the question— With whom are we to sympathize, the North or the South? is a question of the deepest practical importance; and it ought to be considered with a due sense of the fact that we ought to be able to give explicit reasons not only for what we do but for the temper which animates what we say.
It is notorious enough that our most conspicuous public writers have given what, to judge from the language of the Americans, might almost be described as unpardonable offence. The special correspondent of the Times (who must be carefully distinguished from a very different and
--obviously much less trustworthy person—their own correspondent) lately declared that if men ever meant what they said, the Americans mean, after destroying the South, to fight us, on the principle of sympathy or death. ‘If you will not admire us of yourselves, we will beat you into admiration.’ On the other hand, a small though able minority of our best writers go all lengths with the North. They appear to view the present War as a crusade for the extermination of a set of robbers and pirates whose victory would involve the establishment of a gigantic power stretching across the continent based on slavery and threatening the liberties of mankind. Mr. Cairnes does not go this length; but he is by far the ablest advocate of Northern views who has appeared on this, and, so far as we know, on either side of the Atlantic. Taking, therefore, his book as a text, we propose to consider what ought in this great matter to be the direction of our sympathies; and whether they can properly be given to either party without reserve.
It should be observed, however, that though natural and intelligible, the degree in which the Americans care for our sympathy is absurd. To have skins of reasonable thickness is not only an advantage but a duty. The disapproval and dislike of the whole civilized world, however expressed, would pass by the English people like mere idle wind. If we were quite sure that they would never go to war with us, the fact that the rest of mankind regarded us with abhorrence, and expressed that abhorrence with the tongues of men and angels, would be a matter of indifference to the public of the three kingdoms. When half Europe sung paeans over the Sepoy revolt, who cared? When eloquent Frenchmen observe —meaning what they say, and arguing with skill to prove it—that we are haughty, selfish, hard, unchristian, incapable of philosophy, and anything else you please, they might as well attack a rhinoceros with a pea-shooter. We never condescend to plead to any jurisdiction whatever, except, if need be, in the way of fighting. Perhaps we carry this too far; but certainly the Americans do not carry it far enough. When, however, they attach so much weight to our opinion, we ought to take some trouble to make it fair.
It must be admitted, in the first place, that the press of this country has done great and even cruel injustice to the North, and has justified a good deal of the feeling with which they regard us. This has been the case in several particulars.
In the first place, it must be owned that a great many of our comments on American affairs have been pervaded by a vindictive complacency which was altogether unworthy of us, and naturally most offensive to them. There cannot be a doubt that subsequent history has proved that in our first great controversy they were right and we were wrong. Our attempt to tax them was iniquitous. They did right to resist it; and our defeat in attempting to put down that resistance was a defeat in a bad cause. There is, indeed, no darker page in the whole history of England. If we had governed them as, instructed by experience, we have governed Canada and Australia, they would at present, in all human probability, have been our closest friends; they would have formed a cluster of independent but friendly communities; they would have been free from many of the evils, moral, intellectual, and political under which they suffer; the French Revolution would have taken place under far more favourable circumstances; less of that intolerable nonsense about the rights of man with which the world has been so much afflicted would have been talked on both sides of the Atlantic; and the English race would have held a position totally unexampled in the history of the world. The dreadful problem of slavery might have been dealt with far more easily, and with some prospect of a successful issue: in short, the history of our part of the globe would probably have been altered for centuries. This prospect is utterly lost—lost through the obstinate pertinacity of a madman, the criminal subserviency of his ministers, and the misplaced pride of a nation fierce and stubborn beyond all others, whether right or wrong.
Such being the case, the least that we ought to do is to be thoroughly ashamed of the faults of our ancestors, and to repent of them as far as we can—to disavow them not only in words but in thought and feeling. The way in which our most influential papers wrote about the American civil war showed how little we had learned this lesson, and how in our hearts we sympathized with the passions which produced such miserable results nearly a century ago. As soon as the Southern States seceded we all began to exult. You have got a bite of your own crust, was the burden of our song. Rebels and traitors as you are, how do you like treason and rebellion? We could sympathize with a legitimate government in its resistance to insurrection. We had a right to hold India against the Sepoys; we would reduce Ireland to a desert before we gave way to Irish rebels; but that is because we are one of the ancient nations of the world; our government holds its power by a better title than the rights of man and the declaration of independence: you, on the other hand, are not a legitimate power; you are bound by principles which we repudiate, and those principles would force you to concede to others the independence which your successful wickedness wrested from us.
This sentiment thrown into all sorts of different forms, but for the most part insinuated in the shape of more or less ingenious banter, pervaded the greater part of what was said or written about the Americans in several of our leading papers, especially the Times. It was intensely irritating, both because it had an air of plausibility, and was well fitted to catch attention, and also because it involved the retractation of the admission long since made by all educated Englishmen that in our great controversy they were right, and were justified by the very principles on which all our own liberties were founded. Indeed this way of writing could be justified only on principles from which nothing but universal anarchy would follow. It tacitly imputed to the Americans that the founders of the United States had laid down the principle, that whenever any considerable body of men chose to withdraw themselves from the control of a given government they ought to be allowed to do so. Such a principle was probably never held by any sane man. It would not only give the South a right to repudiate the North, but it would give New York City a right to secede from the State of New York. Nay, it would give the City of Westminster a right to secede from the City of London, and set up for itself, with its high bailiff for a king. The principle of American Independence was that when a considerable body of men are badly governed and oppressed by a government under which they live, they have a right to resist and withdraw from it; and unless everything in the history of England, of which we have been accustomed to boast, from Magna Charta to the Reform Bill, was a crime, this principle is perfectly true. To deny to the United States, as most of our public writers did deny to them, the right of putting down resistance not justified by oppression, and to impose upon them the duty of submitting at once to any resistance whatever, whether justified or not, was equivalent to maintaining that chronic anarchy was the only state of things which could exist in North America. Could any insult be more gross and wanton, or proceed from meaner grounds? Was it worthy of writers who assumed to express the feelings of a great nation to allow petty spite at a national humiliation ninety years ago to induce them to disavow the fundamental principles of English freedom?
Another point in which we did great injustice to the North was that, after a very short interval, we totally forgot, and never since seem to have thought it worth while to remember, that the South alone were to blame in the beginning of the war, and that they were grievously to blame. There are parts of Mr. Cairnes’ book with which we by no means agree; but one part of it is true beyond all controversy. The Southerners had for many years governed the Union. They had done so with a view to their own peculiar institution of slavery; the object of their policy being to increase as far as possible the number of Slave States, and so keep up their power in the Senate, and maintain and extend that state of things which, for economical reason, are essential to the existence of slavery. No doubt it is true that slave labour is wasteful, superficial, inefficient, and applicable only to the rudest purposes. Hence, as the slave population increases, an enormous area is required for its employment, and hence no doubt the slave-owners were anxious to make every other consideration bend to that of introducing new Slave States into the Union. It is also quite true that this was the reason for the bullying, swaggering tone, and for the aggressive policy, of American politicians; and that those who were always most insolent to us were the very men who are now the leaders of the Confederate States. The history of the events caused by this state of things, from the Missouri Compromise down to the war in Kansas, and the Dred Scott case, is coming to be partially known to English readers who care to understand American affairs, and is well described by Mr. Cannes. Besides this there is every reason to believe that, to all their other offences, the leaders of the secession movement added, at the time of secession, gross treachery. They had in their hands the forces of the Union, and they disposed of them in such a way as to enable themselves to destroy the Union. The first act of secession itself was provoked by no grievance. Nobody oppressed the South. They secede simply because a northern man was elected President, and before they had been interfered with in any respect whatever. In a word, the South both in what led to secession, and in the act of secession itself, gave as great provocation to the North, and behaved as ill to them as one people could behave to another. All this we forgot. In most of our leading papers the Confederates have been the oppressed, fighting for liberty against their Federal oppressors; and we have been told that we, the people of England, sympathized with the South, not only because their defence was gallant, but because it was just.
Not only do these circumstances afford fair ground of complaint against the views of the war put forward in English papers, but some of their statements as to matters of fact have been untrue, and many of them very unjust. Few journalists have ever incurred greater responsibility than the New York Correspondent of the Times. lt is on his testimony alone that a large and most influential class of English society has sympathized with the South. He has throughout acted the part of an unscrupulous advocate, carefully reporting to his employers, and through them to all England, every statement and every fact which could create contempt and disgust against the conduct, the principles, and in general the cause of the North. He has uniformly represented the Federalists as tyrants, marauders, curs, who bought Irishmen and Germans to fight their battles, fraudulent bankrupts, and odious hypocrites. Of course he is not abusive; ‘Our Own Correspondent’ never is; but in a quiet way he reports every discreditable fact, every dirty job, every harsh or cruel act in the conduct of the war; he quotes every blackguard rant of the New York Herald, and he leaves out of sight all that is heroic and pathetic. We all know that Americans are not Englishmen. Their manners have not that repose which marks the readers of the Times. They, or at least their public writers and speakers, bluster and swagger, and in a thousand ways lay themselves open to people of colder manners. Besides this, there is no doubt as choice a selection of blackguards in New York City as is to be found in any part of the world, nor is there any place in which the blackguard element has so much influence. Add to this, that an enormous army, raised in a few months, and officered by men who had no moral control over their troops, was of necessity lax in its discipline, and that the enormous and sudden expenditure involved in raising such an army held out an unexampled temptation to jobbery, and it becomes plain that nothing could be easier than to misrepresent the whole aspect of the war without saying a single thing that was not either true, or at all events attested by plausible evidence. The New York Correspondent of the Times never thought of pointing out that, however many Irish and Germans might be hired to fight at New York, the bulk of the army was and is filled by volunteers from the comfortable classes of New England and the West. If it be true that the North have had in arms some 800,000 men, and if, which is absurd, we allow 300,000 of them to have been mercenaries, it would still be true that a population not exceeding that of Great Britain sent 500,000 men into the field. This would be, at the very least, one eighth of the grown-up men in the country. When we consider that this effort was made, not against an invader, nor under the pressure of want, but in the midst of unbounded prosperity, and in order to support the credit and glory of the nation, it is bare justice to say that the history of mankind can furnish no other example of such an effort. The Dutch fought the Spaniards for their hearths, homes, and churches; the French fought all Europe with famine and the guillotine behind them, and empire and plenty in front. The English in India had the pride of a superior race, and the memory of inexpiable injuries to urge them against the Sepoys; but if ever a nation in this world sacrificed itself deliberately and manfully to an idea, this has been the case with the Americans. Admit for the sake of argument that they are altogether wrong, still their intense and earnest sincerity, and their singleminded self-devotion, are magnificent, and ought to have excited the admiration, instead of the sneers, of their kindred. Be the merits of the question what they may, each side has fought as we should wish the descendants of an English stock to fight. Whatever else is to be said of them, they deserve our respect, and ought to have had it.
Having, however, made all these concessions, the question still remains, to which side we ought to award our sympathy and good wishes? Ought we to wish the Union to be broken up, or ought we to wish the North to conquer the South? In considering this question, there are several distinct principles by either of which we may regulate our feelings. We may consider which side it is whose triumph would most promote our own interests; we may consider which, on the whole, we like best, as a more question of sympathy and antipathy; or, lastly, we may try to look at the question on its own merits, apart from either interest or favour. This last is the true way of considering the matter. The question of interest is principally a matter of guesswork. Very plausible arguments may be put forward on either side. If the Union is broken up, it may be said we have nothing to fear from the power of the North, which will always have a jealous rival by its side. On the other hand, it may be urged that if the Union is restored, the South must be kept down by force of arms, which will be a source of constant weakness to the North. It is indeed obvious enough that such a war, however it ends, must weaken those who carry it on; so that if the weakening of America is our object, it is likely enough to be attained in any event. On the other hand, whatever dangers are to be apprehended from the development of the military spirit, and the increased force of the Central Government, will be incurred at all events. Whether the South or the North carries its point, the war will leave a great army in North America, and a powerful Central Government at Washington or elsewhere. We may therefore dismiss this matter altogether.
It is equally idle to ask whether we like best the North or the South. We have really no trustworthy materials to go upon. We know very little of the South; and as to the North, our knowledge is likely to mislead us. A vague notion prevails in this country that the South are aristocrats, and the North democrats; that in some way or other aristocracy and democracy are at issue, and that the triumph either of the South or the North will be a triumph for the principle which the victorious side represents. This, in plain words, is nonsense. If the South became independent to-morrow, the North would be as democratic as ever it was; and the arguments against and in favour of democracy, and the causes which tend to produce or prevent it in our own country, would remain absolutely unaltered. The same would be the case if the North utterly subjugated the South. The war is no doubt a war between a democracy and what may in a sense be called an aristocracy, but the question at issue has little to do with forms of government.
Thus the proper, and indeed the only satisfactory way of viewing the subject, is to consider the merits of the case apart from its bearing upon our interests or sympathies, and to regulate our sympathies according to the conclusion at which we arrive.
The Southern case is well summed up in a sentence chosen by M. de Tocqueville from a speech made by Mr. Calhoun in the Senate of the United States in 1833: ‘The Constitution is a contract in which the States appeared as sovereigns. Now whenever a contract is made between parties who have no common superior, each retains the right of deciding for itself on the extent of its obligations.’ Upon this principle, a certain number of the States withdrew from the Union on the ground that it did not suit their convenience to continue to belong to it, and they associated themselves together in a new Confederacy, upon terms which they considered better suited to their interests. The North, on the other hand, maintained that the Federal Government was supreme and sovereign, that the individual States had no right to withdraw from it, and that to do so was treason and rebellion, to be put down by the exertion of any degree of force which might be required for that purpose.
This was the formal issue between the two parties, and much of the confusion which has prevailed in this country in discussing the cause of the civil war has arisen from overlooking the distinction between the question itself and the reasons why the question was raised. There cannot be a doubt that Mr. Cairnes is perfectly right in saying that the explanation of secession is to be found in slavery, and in the peculiar state of things which slavery produced. He is probably quite right in saying that the South seceded because the Southerners felt that the game was going against them; that they could no longer expect to go on adding new Slave States to the Union, and that the only way in which they could hope to preserve and extend the state of society in which they found themselves, was by establishing a new Confederacy, based on slavery. His book contains abundant and detailed proof of this. To us it appears more difficult to exaggerate than to overlook the iniquity of such an enterprise. Slavery seems to us so bad a thing that it is as superfluous to condemn it as to condemn robbery. The twenty millions which we paid to rid ourselves of the sin and shame of maintaining it was one of the best investments this country ever made. The relief would have been cheap at a hundred millions.
The fullest recognition of this truth, however, is quite consistent with the belief that the right to secede at pleasure from the Union was altogether a different thing from the ground on which secession was resorted to. The characteristic haste of people in this country to get at the substance of the question, and to neglect its form, has caused this matter to be very generally overlooked, especially amongst those who have advocated the views of the North. The whole question turned upon the nature and meaning of the Constitution. If the Constitution had expressly authorized secession, and pointed out the way in which States might secede, there would have been no question on the subject. In fact, as all the world knows, it is silent on the subject; and what is the result of that silence? Nothing could be less worthy of the greatness of the controversy than to attempt to argue such a question upon purely legal grounds. As every lawyer knows, legal arguments are seldom, if ever, conclusive. There is, in general, nearly as much to be said on one side as on the other. A Federalist will be able to show by plausible arguments and analogies that the Constitution excludes, and the Confederate will be able to show that it admits, the right of secession. Plain men will probably infer that the document is ambiguous; that some parts favour one view, and some the other; and that those who framed it omitted the question on the convenient principle of letting sleeping dogs lie.
Since, then, little satisfaction is to be got from the Constitution itself, we must look at the facts to which it applies; and here again we find the same difficulty. The facts are ambiguous as well as the documents. On one side the Federalist says, with perfect justice, ‘Here is a Government which addresses itself directly to individuals; which has its legislature; its courts of law, its executive officers in all parts of the country; which is a common benefit to every one of us, and which you want to break up for a disgraceful object.’ On the other side, the Confederate says, with equal justice, ‘Virginia and Carolina were sovereign States before the Union was made, and they, with others, made the Union; they are still independent, except in so far as the Union extends; and why may they not unmake the work of their own hands? The State, and not the Union, is my native country. It makes almost all the laws under which I live, and regulates all my principal interests; and if my State says one thing, and the Union another, I shall stand by my State. You may call our objects disgraceful if you will, but I have lived all my days in a slave country, and I do not agree with your views of slavery; nay, your own laws have in a thousand ways recognized slavery. Whoever is right, we now propose to take the responsibility on our own shoulders, and deal with it in our own way. You will be able to take your road, and let us go ours. Why should we not agree to differ?’
It can hardly be denied that there is quite plausibility enough in each of these views to justify each side in maintaining and in fighting for its own. And thus we are brought to a paradox which in real life is common enough, though in speculation it is a reductio ad absurdum, namely, that both sides are right—a consequence which results from the fact that the infirmities inseparable from human nature confine each side to a partial view of the case; the whole of which, indeed, is probably not capable of being known to any one. Our sympathy in such cases cannot be given without reserve to either party. Each has a right to some part of it, though upon conditions and under limitations which it is essential to understand explicitly.
Take first our sympathies with the North. So long as the North confine themselves to fighting substantially for the enforcement of the Constitution, they stand at all events on solid ground; and it is difficult to deny that they can justify their conduct. The fact that anything in the nature of inherent authority, or Divine right, is disclaimed on each side is so far from being a reason, as some persons seem to think, why the South should not be compelled to keep their bargain, if it is one—-that it is a strong reason why they should. If the alleged right stood on some mysterious, inexplicable ground, one could understand its being contested; but it is based on the plain, broad ground of express agreement; and there is an end of all transactions between man and man, if express agreements are not to be enforced.
Though, however, we may sympathise with the North to this extent, even that amount of sympathy must be qualified by the feeling that to fight for the establishment of the Constitution is not only fighting for an idea, but fighting for something very like a shadow. It is hardly conceivable that the Constitution should survive a civil war. There are contracts which people have a right, even a strictly legal right, to enforce, but which no reasonable creature ever dreams of enforcing. Marriage is the most important and solemn of all contracts; but if all its obligations are grossly violated by either party to it, what is the use of resorting to legal remedies, or suing for the restitution of conjugal rights? Partnership is a contract not without some resemblance to marriage; but if a man discover that his partner has been defrauding him, does he go to a court of equity to compel his specific performance of the partnership obligations? In the one case the remedy is divorce’; in the other a proceeding, the object of which is to dissolve the original contract, and to obtain satisfaction for the breaches committed whilst it subsisted. The common course of civil life is to trust to good faith and private interest to secure the performance of contracts, which to be beneficial to either of the contracting parties, require the active and zealous co-operation of both, and to use force for no other purpose than that of getting damages for the breach of them. Looking at the substance of the controversy between the North and the South, and not at its form, the true conclusion appears to be, to use a legal metaphor, that the verdict, with costs and damages, ought to be for the North, but that there should be no decree for specific performance.
When this is translated into the language of common life, it means no more than a repetition of arguments which have been repeated almost ad nauseam, on this side of the Atlantic. Such a Constitution as that of the United States can never be worked if half of the States belonging to it are reluctant. They can neither be admitted to Congress nor excluded from it, consistently with the Constitution which is sought to be enforced. Slavery can be abolished only by the utter destruction of the Constitution under which, for eighty years, it grew and flourished. If it is left existing, the civil war will have been mere aimless misery; for the same causes will produce the same effects. The extension of slavery will still be the object of the slaveholders. Their means of bringing it about will still be what they were; and when the contending parties have to some degree recovered from the effects of their struggle, the struggle itself will be resumed.
It is needless to insist upon these arguments. It is quite enough to indicate their nature; for so overwhelming is their force, that even Mr. Cairnes admits them to be conclusive. He says, after dwelling for some pages on the subject, ‘For these reasons I cannot think that the North is well advised in its attempt to reconstruct the Union in its original proportions;’ and the final result of his views is, that the North ought to aim at reclaiming for the Union as many as possible of the Border States, and the States west of the Mississippi, including if possible, Louisiana, and the whole of the territories, and allowing the Gulf States to become an independent power. Mr. Cairnes, it must be observed, puts this as a matter not of right, but of expediency. He thinks that these terms are about as good as any which the North can get, and therefore he would wish, as a matter of policy, that they should confine themselves to the attempt to secure them. His sympathies apparently would go much further. He holds that the right to subjugate the South, ‘is as clear as the right to put down murder and piracy.’ He thinks that ‘even though we should question the perfect purity of the motives of those who undertake it, the act itself must be acknowledged as a service to the civilized world.’ He refers with sympathy, though not with approval, because he considers it impracticable, to a scheme for overrunning the South, emancipating the slaves, and replacing the slaveholders by free emigrants from the North.
This part of his book may thus be divided into two distinct doctrines.
1. That as a matter of expediency we ought to wish to see the North treat, in course of time with the South, on the basis of the independence of the Gulf States, the allotment of the territories to the North, and the division of the Border States and the States west and south of the Mississippi, according to arrangement.
2. That as a matter of feeling, we ought to view the South, in general, as people whom it is as lawful to subjugate as to subjugate murderers and pirates; and that if it were practicable, we ought to feel that it would be desirable that the slaves should be emancipated by force, the present landowners dispossessed of their property in a body, and their places filled by Northern immigrants.
Our conclusions are—
1. That we should be disposed to sympathise with the North if, and in so far as, they carried on the war with the object of obtaining such terms as those which Mr. Cairnes specifies.
2. That the North have no claim whatever on our sympathy in so far as they carry on the war for the sake of what Mr. Cairnes considers as desirable though impracticable objects. Each of these conclusions we now propose to explain.
The general argument of Mr. Cairnes’ book—an argument developed with admirable method and clearness—is that the Southerners have long been guiding the policy of the Union with no other object than that of extending slavery to the utmost; by which means they hoped at last to erect a huge slave power, extending from sea to sea, which would reopen the slave trade, and nourish the most extensive designs of violence and aggression on the rest of the world. The labouring class of this vast empire would be slaves, they would be governed by a fierce aristocracy, who, having nothing else to do, would domineer over the whole Union, and through the Union, over the world in general. It is by reason of this terrible conspiracy against the liberties and the morals of mankind, that the Southerners have forfeited their title to the rights of other civilized people, and ought to be treated in the lump as pirates and murderers.
In the first place it does not seem to occur to Mr. Cairnes, though it can hardly fail to suggest itself to his readers, that whatever may be the iniquity of the policy of the South, the instrument, by and through which they worked, was the Constitution of the United States, and that the hold which they had over the Free States, was the threat of destroying the Union. No one, indeed, can read the history of their proceedings without indignant disgust. Their policy for some forty years was vile, and its fruits, on several occasions, as for instance, in the whole management of the-affairs of Kansas, were detestable. To see such a power established over the whole length and breadth of North America, would indeed be an awful misfortune: but secession destroyed its chance; by the act of withdrawing from the Union, the seceding States renounced the power, the quasi-tyrannical power, which for a generation they had exercised over the North. They executed their threat; they fired their shot and did their worst, and from that moment they had no hold on the North. If upon this the North had said, ‘Go by all means, and settle your own affairs; but understand that you take with you no particle of Federal territory or property. Pay for the forts we built, for the roads we made; repay the purchase money which we gave for Florida and Lousiana; remove for ever the notion of spreading yourselves and your vile institution over our territories; and understand that, as a material guarantee for our interests, we shall hold all military positions that we have got, and all others that we think it necessary to take’— all Europe would have said you have acted with wonderful moderation, and we heartily wish you success in your enterprise. If upon this the South had resorted to force, and had thus put the North on the defensive, we should have admired and honoured the utmost efforts which they could make to defeat and damage their antagonist. If even now they were to make any offer of the kind we should not look very closely at its terms. Our sympathies would be with the North in the bargain, if they would admit the notion of compromise at all into their minds, and ask for anything short of the very extremest rights that could by any possibility accrue to them under their own interpretation of an ambiguous document, which constitutes their only title, and which they themselves tread under foot whenever it furthers their purposes to do so. Mr. Cairnes almost appears to think that the North deserve our sympathy, because they might have pursued a course which would have entitled them to it. No doubt they might, but the course which they did in fact pursue, was altogether different. If a man on being assaulted in the street by a ruffian, gives or takes him into custody at the expense of a severe struggle, we admire his strength and courage, and applaud his resolution. If he resists the assault by means of a deadly weapon, if upon being slapped in the face he draws a knife, and after a fierce struggle, in which the assailant is unarmed, at last succeeds in getting him down and cutting his throat, we do not justify the insult, nor do we call the act of the insulted man murder; but we describe it as an aggravated manslaughter, and punish it severely. This is pretty much the position of the North and South. They are like partners whose partnership-deed enables the one to insult, thwart, and injure the other. After a long course of offensive conduct the offending partner dissolves the partnership in a manner as illegal and offensive as that in which he acted on it. Hereupon the offended partner, instead of proceeding against the offender for the breach of his agreement, breaks into his house, seizes him by the throat, and expresses his intention of dragging him by main force to the office and blowing out his brains, unless he carries on the business as usual. Are we to confine our sympathy to the offended party, because the other was the original wrong doer? Before we can think so we must be convinced that the violence employed was absolutely necessary. A slave empire would be a reproach to the whole world. Granted; but is the subjugation of the Slave States and the expulsion, if not extermination of the owners of the soil, the only way to prevent the establishment of a slave empire? The reopening of the slave trade would be a hideous atrocity—quite true; and so long as we can send a cruiser to sea it is to be hoped that that abominable trade may be treated like the piracy which it is. But are we to dispossess and revolutionize a great nation, because if all their landowners are not dispossessed, it will be hard to prevent them from becoming independent, and because if they become independent, we think that they may reopen the slave trade? Shall we hang all our ticket-of-leave men because some of them, if left unhung, will probably commit murder? These are not the usual terms on which either men or nations are bound over to keep the peace.
It may be said, do you really mean to assert that at the wrongful bidding of a disreputable minority, the North ought to have sacrificed their national integrity, and submitted to so great a wound to their national pride as that submission would involve? They viewed, and you admit that it was natural that they should view, the Union and not the State as their country. They felt a proportionate pride in its greatness. Were they to give up this dream, if you like to call it so, merely to please an unscrupulous faction? No doubt the trial was a very hard one. Numberless associations and feelings made it harder for the Americans than it would have been probably for almost any other people in the world; but the occasion was one of those in which the alternative is between heroism too exalted for the common run of men, and a blunder which involves the most frightful calamities. If the Americans at large had had the political wisdom to see that the Constitution could not be maintained by force of arms, that whatever might be the moral guilt and unfairness of those who wished to break it up, they had the power of doing it if they were thoroughly determined; and that if the States at large had a right, or what might, with no very forced use of words he so called, to prevent the secession of the minority, it was a right which it would be very unwise to enforce. If they had seen and acted on this view of their position, they would have shown a degree of forethought and self-control, which it is perhaps idle to expect from any considerable body of men. The impulse to defend the Union at all hazards, to repel force by force, and to treat in the first instance, those who employed it as rebels and traitors, was at the worst a generous error; and perhaps the cool wisdom which would at once have declined the contest, might have involved the imputation of cowardice. It might also have been said that as a matter of fact, the seceding States were misrepresented, and that the rebellious minority would be disavowed by the majority if that majority were not deserted by their fellow citizens.
These considerations would certainly excuse, if they did not altogether justify, the determination to put down secession by force; but there is a time when it ceases to be honourable to persist in what was once an honourable mistake. As to the feeling of the population of the Slave States, there can be no doubt. The ablest advocate of the North admits that some degree of secession must be admitted as an inevitable calamity. Under these circumstances it is surely not harsh to conclude that the North can claim our sympathy in their continued efforts to subjugate the South upon one of two suppositions only: the one is the offer of something like reasonable conditions of peace, including the independence of part at least of the Confederate States; the other is that they shall prove to our satisfaction that we ought to wish for the subjugation of the South, the forcible emancipation of the slaves, and the dispossession of the present owners of the soil. Mr. Cairnes’ unreserved expression of this view, makes it necessary to give it full consideration.
The designs in question, which appear to be avowed by many persons in the North, and which have the sanction of Mr. Cairnes’ high authority, may be defended on two distinct grounds, which may be called respectively the legal and the political. Mr. Cairnes takes the political view; but the legal one has been powerfully advocated in America, and no doubt exercises almost disproportionate influence on the minds of the population of the United States—a population which, as M. de Tocqueville pointed out, is remarkably susceptible to the influence of legal and quasi-legal considerations. The legal view is, that the President is Commander-in-Chief of the army of the United States; that the rebellion which exists in the Southern States gives him a right as such to proclaim martial law; that martial law authorizes him to set free slaves as a military measure, and that civil law authorizes him to confiscate slaves who are the property of rebels, on the ground that their property is forfeited by reason of their rebellion.
Of all modes of argument, legal arguments ought to be most carefully watched. They can seldom be applied with propriety to great political subjects, for real legal arguments are always drawn from positive rules, and assume the existence of a common superior, able to put those rules in force. Sham legal arguments, on the other hand, are irritating and misleading beyond all others, for they carry with them a sort of, pretence of rightful authority which readily imposes on some and vexes those on whom it does not impose. The argument under consideration is in every sense of the word a sham argument. There are two separate views in which the Southerners may be regarded. They are either citizens of an independent State at war with the United States, or else they are citizens of the United States engaged in the commission of the crime of high treason. Take which view you please, and the emancipation of the slaves is equally unjustifiable. If, as the Northerners say, they are rebels and criminals engaged in the commission of a crime for which they might be hung, they ought to be dealt with in due course of law. They ought to be arrested and tried in the manner prescribed by the Constitution; and upon their conviction, their property, slaves included, might be forfeited. But what right has the President of the United States to dispense with trial and conviction, and to deal with a whole class of property in the Southern States—for the Constitution prohibits him from denying that slaves are property—by one sweeping enactment made by his own will‘? Suppose upon a rebellion in Ireland the Queen were to issue a proclamation declaring all the land in Munster and Connaught forfeited to the Crown: what would our Parliament and law courts say to such a proceeding? Yet this is just what the President has done in the name of the Constitution.
Suppose next that this is a war measure. This is the ground on which the proclamation is commonly justified; and it is often said that we English took a precisely similar measure when we invaded the South in 1814. No doubt we did so, and a very questionable act it was; and for the seventeen hundred slaves so emancipated, the Emperor of Russia, as arbitrator, obliged us to pay a compensation of £250,000 to the proprietors. This, however, is a trifle. Whatever we did, we did as foreign enemies invading a foreign country. Once admit that the South is a foreign country invaded by a foreign enemy, and the legal ground is altogether gone. If the Southerners are rebels, they can be punished only in due course of law. If they are not rebels, the North have no right to punish them at all. Even this, however, is not all. The power of adopting particular courses of conduct as war measures is according to the practice of all civilized countries confined to the actual necessities of warfare. The commanders of armies exercise, of course, whatever authority is necessary to carry on the war. When a commanding officer says all persons out at night in such a district must have proper passes; unless such a town surrenders, it will be stormed and plundered; all soldiers found marauding will be instantly shot— he is acting within his powers; but who ever supposed that because a general may do such acts as these he is also authorized to exercise permanent legislative or judicial power? When the Duke of Wellington was at Paris might he have gone down to the Palais de Justice, and taken the place of the civil or criminal judges sitting there? If a French army occupied London, does any one suppose that the general in command would sit Chancery? Still more monstrous and contrary to all civilized practice would it be if a general were to attempt to legislate for a country where he was not even present, much less victorious. Suppose the Duke of York, as commander-in-chief, when the English under Wellington invaded France, had issued a proclamation setting forth that in consideration of the evils involved in democratic institutions he, as a war measure, decreed that henceforth the descent of land in France should be regulated by the common law of England, he would have been laughed at all over Europe. Yet this is just what the President has done. He has claimed a right to repeal part of the law of the Southern States, which law the very Constitution from which he derives his power, and all the legislation and judicial decisions founded on it, recognize in a thousand ways merely ‘as a war measure.’ Law is a good thing, and arbitrary power setting law at defiance may be a good thing; but incoherent quibbles are always detestable
Another view of the subject is based upon what may be called the political principle, which is, no doubt, intelligible, founded on a tenable view of the facts of the case, and not upon sham legal arguments. According to this theory the mere letter of the Constitution must be disregarded. An extraordinary emergency has occurred which must be dealt with on first principles by those to whom circumstances have given the power. The South is in fact a separate nation, and has made war upon the North under circumstances of great aggravation. The North and its rulers are therefore justified in making war upon it, in continuing that war until it is utterly defeated, and in exercising the rights of conquest to the utmost extreme by dispossessing the whole of the white owners of the soil, and setting free the negroes. Mr. Cairnes, from motives of expediency, does not go this length, but he seems to think it justifiable; and others amongst justifiable undertaking, but a holy and sacred war worthy to be looked upon in the same kind of spirit in which the crusades were looked on by the crusaders—a war undertaken to free the earth from a scandal and a danger.
This view has the merit of being thoroughly intelligible and straightforward. It is based on principles which speak for themselves, and which it is impossible to misunderstand; and it does not require the aid of any sophistry or quibbling. It must be added that, as things go on, either this view or Southern independence must prevail. It is the view which the continuance of the war implies, for all others are mere subterfuges and promises. It is abundantly clear that either disunion or conquest must come to pass; and the sooner this is generally understood the sooner will the effusion of blood be stopped. Hence those who call upon us to sympathise fully and without restriction with the North really mean that we ought to wish to see the South utterly subjugated, and the white society now established there utterly destroyed and swept away; and the broad question is whether we do or do not wish to see that.
Let us, in the first place, consider what such a process means. It means that a population of about five million white men, many of them of the highest spirit and courage, are to be deprived of all that makes life valuable: they are to be driven to the woods like wild beasts, deprived of their homes, their property, their political privileges; slaughtered if they resist, and replaced by backwoodsmen, by Germans and Irish immigrants, by every wild, restless spirit who finds a difficulty in getting on in the North or in Europe, and who likes to kill, and take possession of some part of this boundless mass of territory offered up as a common spoil on account of the sins of its owners. It is perhaps too much to say that no conceivable state of things could render the notion of such an enterprise otherwise than horrible to the ears of civilized men. If the Southerners were a crew of pirates and robbers who had settled down in a West Indian island, and were the common enemies of the human race, they might perhaps be treated thus with propriety. If Charleston and New Orleans were like the cities of the plain, and were daily invoking fire from heaven, we could understand the proposition; though even then we should remember that the severest trial to which the faith of believers in the Bible has been subjected consists in their being called upon to believe that Almighty God, in a special and miraculous manner, commanded the Israelites to exterminate the Canaanites, and that the Israelites were justified in so doing. In a general way the notion of deliberately attempting to punish even armed guilt by calling in private ferocity and cupidity belongs to other times and countries than ours. We do not in these days set a price on the heads of murderers, and allow any one who pleases to destroy them, and seize their goods. When criminals are to be punished we proceed with some forms of justice even in extreme cases. In the Indian mutiny dreadful things were done, and it is to be feared some great cruelties were committed; but at all events we did not try to put down mutiny by robbery; we did not hire against the Sepoys every roving adventurer who might feel inclined under our licence to renew the old times of the Mahrattas and the Pindarrees, and to set out on his own account to fight for whatever he could get. Yet this monstrous measure is the substance of what is proposed as a new crusade. Irish ruffians who hung the blacks at New York, and burnt their bodies on the gallows; the wild roving men, made up of all the adventurers in Europe, who swarm in a new country; the host of population who crowded to the Californian and Australian diggings, and were picked up by the New York crimps at the first outbreak of the war—are to be let loose on this unhappy country to help themselves, to cultivate the land, to shoot the men, to console the women, and civilize the slaves.
This is the sort of measure which claims our sympathy. This is a holy war. This will remove the greatest scandal in the world, and efface a standing insult to civilization and Christianity. Can any sane man believe this. Is it not clear that the result of the attempt would be to produce a state of things compared with which the worst miseries of the worst period of Irish history would be the joys of Paradise? Let those who want to know the result of wholesale confiscation look a little at that precedent. Even now, after the most careful efforts long persisted in to undo the evils which our forefathers inflicted, and after the lapse of centuries since the original wrong was done, that wound is still bleeding. To this hour the Irish peasant clings to the notion that the land to which his landlord makes a title under English grants is the rightful property of his own clan, and shoots the man who acts on a different theory. Imagine an island nearly as large as Europe, containing the remnants, if you will, but still the remnants of a fierce, haughty population, brooding over the most fearful injuries that one class can inflict on another, and taking the life of every settler whom they could reach with a rifle-bullet as they would take the life of a robber or a wild beast. Even if the Southern armies were broken up, and the Southern towns taken, the attempt to dispossess the proprietors, and to revolutionize the whole face of the country, could have no other effect than to produce a scene of bloodshed, confusion, and savage ferocity too horrible to think of. It has been said, and with great plausibility, probably with truth, that if every position which the North is attacking were carried, the war would only be begun; for that in so vast a space of country armies can retreat in any direction they please, and fight wherever they happen to be. Even if the armies were reduced to guerillas the plague would be increased instead of being diminished, and the ultimate result of the war would be that the Slave States would be reduced to the state of a wilder and a more lawless Mexico, inhabited by an infinitely fiercer population, and desolated by almost incurable feuds.
This is the prospect held out to us in the case of Northern success. Certainly it would effectually punish the South if that is the object; but why are they to be punished? Why are they to be subjugated, as Mr. Cairnes considers they lawfully may be, like murderers and pirates? Two reasons are assigned. In the first place they have been guilty of a dreadful conspiracy against civilization, a conspiracy to establish a terrific slave power, and to reopen the slave trade; and in the next place they are slaveholders. Let us consider each charge. First, as to the conspiracy. Where is the proof of it? The chapter in which Mr. Cairnes attempts to prove its existence is the least satisfactory part of his book. He gives no evidence at all, except the language of a few private writers, and his own inferences from the past history of the slavery party in the Union. As we have already shown, secession itself has put an end to their principal opportunity of mischief. The Southern States have as yet made no claim to the territories: they have confined themselves to asserting their own independence, and by that very fact have put themselves into a position in which the erection of a great slave power will be practically impossible. With the enormous forces at their command the United States ought to be able to hold Texas and Arkansas; and if they do, the fear of the sort of power which Mr. Cairnes dreads seems groundless. As to the opening of the slave trade it is very likely that they might wish to do it; and though it is fair to add that a clause in their Constitution for the present prohibits it, it is not improbable that Mr. Cairnes may be right in attaching little value to that clause, and believing that it will be repealed as soon as circumstances permit. No doubt the opening of the slave trade would be a gross scandal; but if the European naval powers and the United States permitted it, the shame would be theirs. It is entirely a naval question; and there is no reason to doubt that our naval strength will always be sufficient to prevent that atrocity. However this may be, it is surely common fairness not to adopt such frightful measures as are proposed as mere precautions. It will be time enough to wish to see the Southerners exterminated when we see that these charges have some foundation in fact and even then something milder than extermination may serve the purpose.
When we pass to the second charge – the charge that as the people are slave-owners they are also in the nature of pirates, and deserve to be treated as such – the monstrous impudence of the assertion is the thing which strikes us most. Slavery is a very bad institution, and produces all sorts of bad results; but have men ever in any part of the world, since they acquired that small degree of practical common sense which is implied in most forms of modern civilization, undertaken to evangelize each other by war, and not only by war, but by wars of extermination? Idolatry, polygamy, and a variety of immoral habits prevail to a terrible extent in China. It may be doubted whether the Tartar dynasty have either acquired their power rightfully, or use it well. Does it follow that as soon as we happen to be insulted by the Chinese we ought to undertake to revolutionize the whole country, depose the Emperor, turn out the mandarins, and pass an Act of Parliament making all the people Christians according to the Church of England? Yet this is what some able men (not, to do him justice, Mr. Cairnes) propose in regard of the South. They have, it is said, given the North a right to chastise them; they have cruelly insulted them: let the North enter and revolutionize the whole country. By the same rule we ought seven years ago to have set at liberty all the serfs in the Russian empire.
It does not often happen that an inquiry into motives is productive of much result; but when the question is one of sympathy it cannot be altogether passed over. The North claim our sympathy in their attempt to subjugate and revolutionize the South. This gives us a right to ask why they do it. Because slavery is so very wicked, we are told. How came they never to find that out before? For about eighty years they lived on the best possible terms with slavery: they wished for nothing better than to let it alone; and not only did they let it alone, but they submitted to what most people would have viewed as shameful humiliations rather than quarrel with slaveowners. The recollection of the Fugitive-slave Law ought to stop the mouths of the Northerners when they profess to feel a holy horror at slavery, and ask us to sympathize with their efforts to destroy it. What stirred them up at last was not the moral evil of slavery, but the excessive insolence of slave-owners. When a long course of humiliation ended at last in a downright wound to their national pride, their eyes were opened; and when they felt themselves publicly insulted, they woke to the discovery that those who insulted them were very wicked people. It is impossible not to see that their feelings towards the South are something altogether different from the stern determination to discharge a painful duty with which in such an undertaking men ought to be animated. It is a savage, party hatred, felt chiefly, if not exclusively, at present by the extreme party, which will soon absorb the rest of the nation, compounded of jealousy, savage fanaticism, and wounded national vanity. Why should we sympathize with such feelings as these? Why should we wish for the triumph of those who are actuated by them?
The answer usually given is twofold. In the first place it is said emancipation is so good and great a thing that it ought to be obtained at any expense; and in the next place the Southerners are detestable, and ought to be detested. As to the first it seems probable that emancipation is a good thing, so good a thing that it ought to be desired at the expense of much evil; but look at the way in which it is proposed to effect it, and at the price which will have to be paid. It is to be obtained by a bloody and obstinately-contested revolution, if at all—a revolution which will make the South the scene of a fearful intestine war for many years to come. In the midst of this state of things some four million blacks will be set free. On what terms would these people live with the proposed immigrants? Would Irish and German settlers and wild adventurers of every race and nation treat these unhappy men with any sort of consideration or humanity? The cotton and sugar, we will suppose, go out of cultivation, and squatters come up over the face of the earth, and set to work to settle it. What will they do with the blacks? Most assuredly they will not hire them, for they will have no capital: they will not therefore support them; and as for the kind of work to which they have been accustomed, there will be none for them to do. Will they take to squatting themselves? If they do, they will become as complete savages as their African ancestors. But will they ever be tolerated? It is by no means easy to say. In the North their lot has not been an easy one; but there they are in comparatively small numbers. The difficulty lies in the fact of their presence in the country in numbers sufficient to make up a considerable part of the population. There is great reason to fear that the result of the proposed revolution—for that is its proper name — would be nothing more than a change of masters. Slavery might be disguised in some form or other, but the substance would be there. Where the superior and inferior races meet in anything like equal numbers it must be so. M. de Tocqueville’s remarks upon this point are as remarkable as his sayings usually are. He wrote upon the theory that at some time or other the Southerners themselves would abolish slavery. He says:—
‘If I were obliged to prophesy, I should say that, according to the probable course of events, the abolition of slavery in the South will increase the repugnance which the white population there feels for the blacks. I formed this opinion on what I have already remarked of the same sort in the North. I have said that the white men in the North separate themselves from the negroes with a degree of care proportioned to the absence of legal distinctions between them made by legislation. Why should it not be the same in the South? In the North, where the whites fear to end by being confounded with the blacks, they dread an imaginary danger. In the South, where the danger would be real, I cannot think that the fear would be less. If, on the one hand, it is admitted that in the South the blacks constantly accumulate and increase faster than the whites; and if, on the other hand, it is admitted that it is impossible to foresee an epoch when the blacks and whites will mix their breeds and live upon equal terms; must we not conclude that in the Southern States there will sooner or later be a struggle between the blacks and the whites?’This struggle, which M. de Tocqueville foresaw even in the event of a voluntary enfranchisement by the Southerners themselves, would be rendered at once far more probable and far more terrible if the enfranchisement was brought about by a set of invaders in the midst of a desperate civil war. That such a transaction might in the long run, and after the lapse of years, perhaps of generations, produce a balance of good is possible; it is also possible that it might not; but as things stand at present it seems hardly credible that any reasonable person should regard the proceeding with exultation and sympathy, especially when it is clear beyond all doubt that the leading motive of those who carry it on is to heal the wounds of their national vanity.
For all these reasons it appears impossible to sympathize with the North as matters at present stand, though no doubt they might have conducted their affairs in such a manner as to claim our sympathy. The best that can be said for them is that the other side were originally in the wrong, and that they have acted with excessive violence and without any very definite or intelligible object under the influence of passions not in themselves ignoble. The impression which they make on the mind is that of an immense number of very commonplace people put by circumstances into an extraordinary position, in which they comprehend nothing distinctly beyond a general notion that they have been very ill used, and ought to make great efforts in some direction to set themselves right. A purblind giant furiously and yet indecisively laying about him in all directions is not a magnificent, though it may be a striking, and in some respects even a touching spectacle.
Such being our sentiments towards the North, what is to be said of the South. Ought we to bestow our sympathies on them? It is perfectly clear, in the first place, that they and they alone are to blame for the War. They are at best in the position of people who by extreme means asserted an extreme and doubtful right; and this must be taken in connexion with the fact that their object in doing so was to protect and even to extend a. hateful institution. These considerations must go far indeed to destroy the sympathy which would otherwise be due to their capacity, their endurance, and their wonderful gallantry. It would, however, be wrong to allow that sympathy to be altogether destroyed. It is always unfair to confound the leaders with the people at large. No doubt the politicians of the Southern States pursued for years a most selfish and most wicked course of policy; and it was in pursuit of that policy that they involved their country in its present calamities. The country at large no doubt ratified their policy, and are taking the consequences; but it is never fair to impute to a large population moral as well as personal responsibility for the sins of their rulers. When the Duke of Brunswick invaded France he invaded a country governed by and responsible for the acts of the Jacobins; but it does not follow that the French nation were on a level with their government. It would be hard to say that the Russians were despotic and perfidious because such terms might perhaps be applied to the policy of the Emperor Nicholas; and in the same way we ought to recollect that the South contained some 5,000,000 men of our own race, besides the small number of insolent and in some way unprincipled politicians who for many years represented them in Congress and in the Senate.
To the great bulk of the Southern population this war must undoubtedly have presented itself in the light of resistance to a foreign invasion. Be the legal theory what it may, there cannot be a doubt that on the broad, obvious view of the case which presents itself to ordinary minds, the State and not the Union is the native country of individuals. Here, again, it may be well to quote the words of the greatest political writer of our days:
‘The Federal Government [says De Tocqueville] is placed at a great distance from its subjects. The Provincial Government is within the reach of all: you have only to speak to be heard by it. The Central Government has on its side the passions of a few superior men who aspire to direct it. On the side of the Provincial Government is found the interest of second-rate men, who hope for power in their State only; and these are the persons who, being placed nearest the people, exercise most power over them. The Americans then have much more to hope and to fear from the State than from the Union; and, according to the natural practice of the human heart, they must attach themselves much more warmly to the former than to the latter.’This being so, there can be little doubt which side the great mass of people would take in a quarrel in which both sides had very plausible arguments to urge; and thus the moral character of their conduct must be judged of on the principle that they are resisting what they in full good faith look upon as a wicked invasion. Their worst enemies cordially admit that they have displayed a truly heroic spirit of courage, self-sacrifice, and constancy in this undertaking. They have done what the North have never succeeded in doing. They have produced great men, and have known how to look extreme danger calmly in the face without bragging to keep up their spirits, and without hiding their wounds when they were hit hard. It may be said these are merely military virtues; that they are consistent with that hateful immorality and profound wickedness which would call upon us to exult in their utter destruction and overthrow. But this is not true. The military virtues do not stand alone. They are not the growth of a rotten soil. They imply a substratum of virtue of another kind. Neither are great statesmen and soldiers mere accidents. They, too, are produced by a special state of society, and by a happy combination of circumstances. Where we find men like Lee and Jackson we may be sure that there were the causes by which such men are produced. It is no mere accident that nearly all the conspicuous personal ability which this wonderful crisis has produced should have been found on one side.
Such a fact has very wide and important bearings. Our notions of Southern society in this country are derived to a great extent from the accounts of it given by Mr. Olmsted and some other writers of the same kind. Mr. Olmsted would certainly lead his readers to believe that the Southerners were brutal, illiterate, vulgar despots, demoralized by the habit of living amongst slaves, and fairly represented by the border ruffians who invaded Kansas. Such writers have it all their own way. It is difficult to deny that they saw what they say they saw; and it is impossible, unless you know the writer himself, to say how far he was fitted to judge and how far he was prejudiced. The incidents of this war, however, appear to prove that Mr. Olmsted cannot have told the whole truth, though he no doubt said what appeared to him to be true. If his account of the Southern States was both true and complete, the behaviour of the Southerners in the present war is an insolvable mystery. Whatever their faults may be they have behaved like men and vigorous statesmen and gallant and honourable soldiers. They ought to have behaved like the lowest rowdies of New York.
If it is the fact that the state of society in the South, whatever it be, is not inconsistent with the general diffusion of great virtues amongst the whites, it is impossible to wish for their extinction merely because they own slaves. Whites are entitled to some sympathy as well as blacks; and we are not prepared to feel that the interests of five million whites are mere dust in the balance when compared with those of not quite so many blacks. Slavery is a wretched institution—but it is an institution. It does after a way solve the fearful problem of getting an inferior and superior race to live together somehow in nearly equal numbers, and, on the whole, in a sort of comfort, though that is nearly savage on the part of the blacks, and rude and much less than it might be on the part of the whites. To feel unfriendly towards a people on whom such a problem has been imposed by the sin of their ancestors is wrong. It is conceivable that if their institution is prevented from spreading, they may find in time some sort of solution of the difficulty. It is hardly conceivable that a strange medley of fanatics and adventurers, drunk with the excitement of conflict, flushed with victory, and pledged to such immediate sweeping measures enforced by the strong hand, should succeed in doing anything of the sort.
The general result is that neither side has much claim to our sympathy. But if the North look to revolution and conquest their designs deserve utter detestation; and the Southern people, as distinguished from their rulers and representatives, come, on the whole, least ill out of the affair. Complicated and qualified conclusions ought to give offence to no one; for if any conclusions as to human affairs are to be held proximately true, they must be both one and the other. Where millions of men are engaged in a deadly struggle it is hardly possible that all the merits of the case should be on one side. In the present instance the practical inference is happily obvious enough. Be perfectly neutral, be civil to each party, and sympathize fully with neither.
Fraser’s Magazine, October 1863.