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Providence, which has made the North in this contest even, as it were, in spite of its own reluctance and protest — the champion of human liberty against a peculiarly gross, sordid, and brutal form of servitude. We know with what lingering and reluctant hand our government brought itself to strike at that hateful privilege which could claim the sanction and the forms of law, while it was used to sharpen the sword and impel the thrust that was aimed at our national existence. More than fifteen months of actual hostility had passed before the penalty of armed treason was made to include the forfeiture of slaves. So easy our government would make the terms of that union and peace which was the single object it sought. That claim, held in such strange and exceptional respect, - that the enemy of his country, forfeiting its protection and assailing its life, might employ its strong hand to help him hold his bondmen, — was torn at length from the scroll of our public liberties, and the offer of reconciliation was renewed. State rights should be respected, but the slaves of rebel masters must go free. This second offer was repudiated and mocked. And now a third time, beaten back from half the area they claimed, shorn of political prestige and strength, with ruin and revolution looking them in the face, the rebellious States are warned that the downfall of the institution for which they made this tremendous sacrifice is irrevocable and fixed; the same price is demanded as at first, - submission; but submission will buy no longer now the undiminished advantage and privilege which was not enough for them two years ago, - only the pledge and the help of the nation, in relieving them of the formidable burden which they brought on themselves when they took up arms in an evil cause.
We do not propose to discuss the last declaration which has been made of the government policy in respect to slavery, in the President's Annual Message. The details of the plan which he suggests take the subject out of the region of general ethical discussion into the field of political expediencies and debates. The main point which has been so long contended for — the extinction of the system of slavery in this country - is already determined on. The precise form in which that great social revolution shall be inaugurated, the hour at which VOL. LXXIV. - 5TH S. VOL. XII. NO. I.
the decisive blow shall be struck, the boundaries within which it shall take effect, the instrumentalities by which it is to be made effectual,- all has been announced as part of the Executive policy. Some doubt exists, at the present moment, as to the exact bearing which the two Executive documents, — the Proclamation and the Message, - may have upon each other. . We shall take for granted that the terms of peace, now proposed, include them both.* Three months ago, it was impossible to predict that the Proclamation might not be heeded somewhere as a warning, and so some part of the seceding territory be saved from its effect. The hundred days are so nearly expired that it would seem nothing now can interpose. The first act of the new year will be, by solemn and irrevocable edict, to withdraw the sanction of national authority from slavery in rebellious States and districts. The first duty of our national legislature will be to organize emancipation in territories made free by military law. Happily, the subject has not the vague mystery and dread there might have been in it a year ago. Two grand experiments have been made already, under the authority and protection of the United States. The Sea Island plantations near Port Royal have been occupied more than a year by a colony of emancipated negroes, and have been cultivated at a clear profit to the government, as we reckon, of about a million dollars. The beginnings and some details of this experiment, - especially the element of Christian benevolence which was so prominent in it, - we have set forth pretty fully in this Journal. Within the last three months a system of free labor on a much larger scale, and with still more remarkable results, has been set on foot in the sugar districts of Louisiana, under the energetic administration of General Butler, - as thoroughly successful, amidst a large hostile population, and under constant menaces of re-conquest, as the other in its forsaken islands, and under the guns of our forts and fleet. Half the State of Louisiana is already, virtually, an emancipated district. The great revolution is already peacefully inaugurated. The Rubicon is passed, — and no
* “Nor will the war, nor proceedings under the Proclamation of September 22, 1862, be stayed because of the recommendation of this plan.” — President's Message.
† Christian Examiner, June, 1862.
convulsions or blood have followed. The way is shown, under competent guidance, to be as safe as it is necessary and right.
The policy of emancipation is vindicated by its results to be a policy of peace, not of conquest and bloody revolution. An aristocracy will be destroyed, but the nation will be saved. To resist the powerful movement which has been begun, to stop that peaceful revolution in its middle course, take back the given word and forfeit the pledged honor of the nation, and attempt to force slavery again upon those who have already tasted the breath of freedom, — might be to bring on this people the same judgment that befell San Domingo, in vaster and more appalling proportions. To accept the new policy of freedom, and follow it up in good faith, firmly, unflinchingly, is the only safe, as it is the only honora
We will not consent for a moment to believe that the Executive will belie its word, or that the present Congress will prove unworthy of its trust.
But the Proclamation, broad as it is, does not cover the whole ground. We might wish that the emancipation it declares were universal, - that on the new year's morning the flag of freedom floated over a continent without a slave. And so it would be, if it were the proclamation simply of a republican theory or of a philanthropic sentiment. But it is also the proclamation of a responsible magistrate, whose powers are limited by fixed boundaries. In the case of a district which renounces its allegiance, those boundaries may be thrown down, or at least set a great way back. It has challenged the war power of the government, and “they that take the sword shall perish by the sword.” But there are States which have kept their loyalty, and must claim their rights of sovereignty. There may perhaps be others — by a possible contingency, several others — which accept the terms of peace; and the government must keep faith with them. Slavery, we have always held, is a matter of municipal law, and is by eminence among the things to be controlled by State jurisdiction. Whether the war power of the President, or the legislative power of Congress, is competent to override this scruple, is a question to be decided elsewhere ; for the present, it seems too long a step in the direction of centralization.
No other way is obvious to make the spirit of the Proclamation universal, and to inaugurate absolute liberty everywhere as the public policy of the nation, except by some method equivalent to that suggested in the Message. The President's propositions are these : by amendments in the Constitution to assure,
1. The absolute liberty of all slaves emancipated by the contingencies of war, - that is, to ratify the effect of the Proclamation of September 22 ;
2. The aid of the public treasury to all such States as shall declare emancipation previous to the year 1900 ; and
3. Authority to colonize, beyond the limits of the United States, such of the emancipated blacks as shall desire it.
Now these are simply suggestions touching particular results, to follow when the Proclamation has had its perfect work. It is hardly to be expected, we should suppose, that these particular propositions, or any near equivalents, should find their way through all the difficult formalities, and become part of the Constitution. If they should, it would secure the single advantage of putting the policy of freedom beyond the reach of political changes and the contingencies of future legislation. A real and great advantage. Yet we own to a strong repugnance that that document, which ought to contain only the broad outline and the abiding principles of our national government, should be marred by legal provisions for a transient evil, and by the needless recognition of a state of . things that we are fast leaving behind us in the dark. Enough that it once gave sufferance to the slave-trade by a provision which has been obsolete these more than fifty years. Let the blow of the first of January be struck firmly, and the policy of last March followed in good faith; there will be little need then of providing for contingencies thirty-seven years in advance of us. To fix the eye on some distant thing helps steady one in an uneasy balance; and so we do not regret that the President has widened the horizon of our debates, and helped us to see something larger than the passions and struggles of to-day. But the policy he suggests, however interesting as a matter of special legislation, is quite apart from those broader principles which are more and more clearly seen to underlie the present struggle.
As to these, we ask attention to a single statement. We do not, of course, assume to speak for everybody, in a population of twenty millions, that with so astonishing unanimity embarked in it a year and a half ago. Still less do we pretend to assert that all the mixed motives which impelled men of so various parties and creeds were alike sincere or alike respectable. Indeed, it would not surprise us if something of vindictiveness, of sectional ambition, of love of empire, even of half-heartedness and bad faith, was eclipsed in the glow of that sacred heat, that seemed at the time to have fused every mean and disloyal thing. We are not apt to believe in sudden conversions; and it is not to be wondered at, if the war has shown us enemies at home more difficult to overcome than the open assailants of our peace, men who coin the nation's blood for drachmas, letting our brave men perish half naked and barefoot in the frosty field, or are willing the war should linger, murderously, that public exhaustion may increase the chances of their political game. Such things it is as bitter to confess as it is impossible to deny. Let our enemies, abroad and at home, make the most of them. What we do say is, that as this war was espoused in the beginning, so it has been sustained throughout, by precisely those classes which best represent the religion and conscience of the nation. We believe that the soul of this people has never once wavered in its conviction that the contest is necessary and just, has never once shrunk from the sacrifice it must make for this cause, dread and terrible as the sacrifice might be. No words can overstate the awe, the reluctance, the grief, with which the alternative of war was seen to be approaching; or the absolute unanimity among Christian men in accepting it as a burden divinely imposed, and its cost as a solemn sacrifice. It is not too much to say, that every man among us who believes in a Divine law controlling human things, - in a destiny for States nobler than science or renown or wealth or power, – in a scheme of human obligation which admits such things as heroism, devotion, and self-sacrifice, — has felt that he was doing God's work in giving his aid to our nation in this struggle; and that the true destiny of this people, as ordained by Eternal Providence, — the true atonement for the wrongs