Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

patriot's heart, and is his guiding star through the blackness of the waters and the terror of the storm. As we approach the threshold of the new year, the thought and the hope have ripened, with many among us, to a conviction that the day of peace cannot be very much longer delayed; at least that the present contest, in the form and vastness it has now, must be fast drawing to a close. A hundred ways may be thought of, how it might have been brought to a speedier decision. It is easy criticism, sometimes heart-rendingly easy and plain, to say how horrible mistakes might have been avoided, and how magnificent opportunities should have been improved. As a part of our nation's discipline, we may see hereafter that not a day of this stern teaching has been lost, and not a drop of the bleeding sacrifice could have been spared.

At present, it may be worth our while to look at the reasons which have induced many to believe that the return of peace may be near, and at those considerations of national duty, security, and honor which are involved in it. Successful or not in the winter campaign we are now passing through, there are obvious reasons for anticipating that it must be very soon followed by those adjustments which will determine the political future of our country. The maturer sense of Christendom will not endure the spectacle of lingering and resultless wars, such as were possible two or three centuries ago. The desires, counsels, and interests of foreign nations have already taken official shape in hints of mediation, which are likely to be pressed home upon us before another summer, in such a way as to forbid the longer derangement of our industry and sealing of our ports. The popular voice at the polls means, if not peace on any terms, at least a determination that it shall not be long delayed ; if not by victory, then it must be had by composition. Again, it would seem as if the government had gone about as far as it dare or can in procuring levies for our vast armies; if it cannot succeed with the means now at its disposal, the reason will be apt to be found in its own incompetency, or else the impossibility of success. Besides, the powerful pacific instinct and habit of the people will make itself felt in compelling a settlement, just as the dead weight of the ocean waves is felt as a steady pressure, to control the violence of the storm, and restore the calm level of the sea. Entirely aside, therefore, from the unreal visions and phantasms of swift-coming peace, which have so perplexed our diplomacy, discredited our political prophets, and beguiled the popular heart in the weariness of the long struggle, there are sober reasons for believing that the war draws near its close. These whispers in the air, of intervention and reconstruction, may be worth little as showing from what source or in what form the result will come; but they may be accepted as hints and harbingers of some change approaching, in that violent and full tide of our troubled national life.

But we need not speculate on the chances of the future. The consummation we so devoutly wish is distinctly offered us. We have only, we are told, to hint a willingness that this strife should cease, and the door of reconciliation lies already open. Of course, this has been the assurance from the first of the seceded States, – that is, of the leaders in their great revolt. They only wished, they said, to be “let alone.” They only wished their victory granted as soon as claimed, their dominion acknowledged as soon as sought. They only desired that all which had been won in the long campaign whose issue was announced two years ago should be let go by default; that the brilliant slave-empire of the South, with its “Golden Circle” embracing Mexico and the Antilles and the gorgeous Spanish Main, should take its place, unchallenged, among the great powers of the earth; that the American republic should be left a dishonored wreck and fragment, and the fabric of a free Christian civilization, slowly building here these two centuries, should be shattered and spoiled. That was all. On those terms, we might two years ago, we might since at any hour, have had such peace as it should please the successful conspirators to grant us. Troublesome questions of boundary might come up, — but they could be easily arranged by yielding up our wide territories, one by one, the refuge and the hope of freemen of every tongue; of frontier quarrels and slavemaster's rights, - but these could be hushed by waiving and conceding them; of certain natural highways of trade and travel, — but these might be composed, we were told, on the easy terms of accepting the slaveholders' constitution, and being received back to the colossal empire, shorn of our political strength, and consenting henceforth to the lordship of the “ master race.” We said we might have had peace on such conditions: but no,we had hardly begun to ponder them, and were only beginning to understand what new horizons of infamy were opening before us, when the shock of that first gun roused us, as if from an evil dream, and the question even, which it offered, never had time to shape itself clearly in the consciousness of the nation. The bribe was indignantly spurned, without so much as distinctly knowing how splendid or how base it was.

Temporary separation, compelled by a threat in one hand and bought by a promise in the other, — separation for the sake of after political arrangements, which should assure them the absolute dominion of the continent; — was the deliberate purpose with which the “ Barons of the South" engaged in this conspiracy. The scheme they dignified with the name of State Rights and independence; the bribe they offered the nation's conscience was the name of peace. Judging by the precedents of the past thirty years, no wonder they expected to succeed. Employing the immense advantage of social position, political experience, and local pride, no wonder they persuaded their own people — possibly persuaded themselves - that they were striking for the righteous cause of liberty from constraint and redress of wrong. Where those who share in a great desire and passion must be counted by millions, where, especially, the sacred name of home and domestic quiet and vested right give sincerity and ardor to the struggle, — we do not think so ill of human nature as to count men criminals from the mere fact that they are arrayed against us, even though our dearest interests and most sacred convictions are at stake. We have no quarrel with the Southern people. We know they have been taught, many of them, to hate us with a blind and passionate hatred, and that this has shown itself, in the present strife, in the most shocking forms. But we know that there has never been anything, this side, answering to it in the least degree, - unless as passion has been stirred, transiently, by the bitter and terrible incidents of war. The pathetic fidelity to an evil cause, – the passionate valor

that has resisted invasion of home and kindred, - the brilliant feats of military skill that have almost made good the enormous disparity of forces, - above all, the sad and tragic attitude in which that perishing structure of Southern society has stood, pining for the common blessings of corn and cloth and salt, dreading the vague horror of slave revolt, yet fighting with a desperate resignation, as it were, to the worst of horrors, rather than forsake its faith in the worst and fatalest of political creeds, — all this moves us with quite other feelings than animosity and revenge. If peace could be had, as we were told, by the naming of the word, it would not be for ourselves alone, hardly for ourselves first, we should rejoice; but to think that ruin and unimagined horror had been spared in those sumptuous valleys and those fair savannas, where the storm of war so pitilessly swept.

We need not reiterate what we have already illustrated at some length,* — how anxiously our government has sought from the first to secure peace, on the single condition of recognizing its lawful authority, and with as small a sacrifice as possible of existing institutions and legal rights.f If the first summons had been heeded, or the first campaign successful, it would have proved literally true, according to Mr. Seward's famous phrase, that the rebellion had come to an end, leaving the “ rights of the States, and the condition of every human being in them, subject to exactly the same laws and forms of administration ” as before. Surely, this was no menace of conquest or revolution. How such overtures were met is now matter of history. The government declared at the outset (June 8, 1861), that it " would, under all circumstances, insist on the integrity of the Union, as the chief element of national life”; and in its " acceptance of civil war as an indispensable condition,” announced the “ strong desire and fixed purpose that the war shall be as short, and accompanied by as little suffering, as possible.” No doubt whatever exists, that the declaration was made in entire good faith. Granting that the government had the right at first to assert its authority, it could not without infamy have offered peace afterwards, on any other terms. When France repents of her long war against the Barbary pirates, and renounces her occupation of Algiers, — when England stands ready at the first challenge to abandon, on ethical grounds, we will not say her imperial colonies of Australia, Canada, or Hindostan, but such waystations of trade and arms as Gibraltar, Jamaica, and Singapore, — then these nations may plead with us against the injustice or the hopelessness of the present contest.* Compromise with armed conspirators against the dignity and life of the nation would have been treachery, not only to the trust confided by this people in its rulers; it would have been also to betray the rights and welfare of humanity, of which every civilized State is in some special sense the guardian. To quote the words of an eloquent and noble Englishman, “ The North fights for civilization against barbarism, for law against lawlessness, for the responsibility of public officers against the impunity of perjured treason, for humanity against cruelty, for coherent civilized institutions against interminable anarchy.” † All this, aside from that high disposal of an historic

* See Christian Examiner for September, 1861.

† We copy the following paragraphs from General Rosencranz's General Order of December 4 (No.31):

This war is waged for the preservation of the Union of our fathers. To preserve that Union the rebellious States must be coerced into submission. This is the one great end we have in view, - and this end must and shall be attained. Without passion, from a sense of duty, trusting in the God who abhors pride and all injustice, we march onward to that end.

“ That the people of the South have been deluded by ambitious demagogues, deceived by lying misrepresentations, - carried away, some by natural sympathies, others by an irresistible current of circumstances, – that many have even been forced into a participation in the rebellion, - we well know. We both know and deplore the cruel necessities of the situation made for them by their rulers. We abhor the grinding despotism which has devoured their substance, depopulated their valleys, converted peaceful neighborhoods into haunts of banditti, and substituted a reign of oppression and terror for the mild government under which, but two short years ago, they were so happily living. We pity them, - we have pitied them, - even while duty compelled us to unsheathe the sword against them; and though so long as they confront us in arms our swords shall never be returned to their scabbards, we yet will gladly hail the day when this desolating and unnatural war shall

cease.”

* “ To pronounce it hopeless and destructive, is to encourage and almost justify the rebels. On no previous occasion have English statesmen taken on themselves to prejudge the ability of a friendly government to put down insurrection.” – F. W. Newman's Letter to Hon. W. E. Gladstone, December 4, 1862.

† F. W. Newman, in the London American.

« ElőzőTovább »