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may appear, was the first of that long series of measures which has culminated in the final decree of abolition. It is as such that I write of it.
I remember, at the time the proclamation appeared, speaking to Mr. Sumner upon the subject. He pointed out to me the imminent danger lest the state of feeling existing between England and America should sooner or later lead to a war between our two countries; and suggested, as the only hope he could see of escaping the calamity, that England should join America in crushing out what he then conceived were the last struggles of the insurgents. To this remark my answer was one which I conceive most Englishmen would have made, that, with our Government there was no possibility of such a step being taken, unless the country was strongly in favour of the North, and that the only way to rouse public feeling in England in favour of the North was to convince Englishmen that the war was being carried on for the bona fide abolition of slavery. Mr. Sumner's reply was, “ Is it possible that England can fail " to see that this war is being carried on for this object “after the publication of the President's message ?"
Now there is no question that England did fail to see this. I suspect that most Englishmen, who, like myself, hate slavery, read this message at first with disappointment. “Is this all ?” was my conclusion at its perusal. Here, at the crisis of a nation's fate, when, for the first time, the power is in the hands of the North ; when the South, in popular opinion, was soon to be at the mercy of the victorious Union, the utmost that the Government proposed was, that the status quo should be restored as regarded slavery, coupled with an abstract resolution, that if any Slave State, of its own free will and good pleasure, chose to abolish slavery, the United States Government should assist it in its good intentions by pecuniary aid. Such, I own freely, was my first impression. But subsequent conversations with American politicians led me to believe that the Emancipation Message, as it was called at the time, was capable of a far higher and more hopeful construction. Subsequent events, I need hardly say, have convinced me that, in this instance, second thoughts were the best.
In the first place, then, this step was the furthest one which the President at the time could take consistently with the Constitution. The great mistake which foreigners appeared to me to make in arguing about America is the assumption that the Government, if it likes, can do everything. Assuming that the Crown, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons, or, in other words, the Government of England, were agreed together, it is hard to say what measures they might not pass legally. And I observe that Englishmen generally assume that, practically, the American Government could do the same. Now, the vital defect of the Union seems to me to be that it exists by means of, and in virtue of, a written Constitution, and that by. this very constitution the absolute as well as the relative powers of the different bodies in the State are so clearly defined, that, in cases not provided for by the Constitution, Government action is paralyzed.
The States which composed the Union, in the words of Justice Story, “yielded anything reluctantly, and “ deemed the least practical delegation of power quite “ sufficient for national purposes.” This, to my mind, is the key to the whole American Constitution. The course of events, the progress of civilization, has gradually increased the practical power of the Central Government, but the legal rights of the component States remain unimpaired. Now, if there are two privileges clearly guaranteed by the Constitution to the different States, they are—the right of each State to regulate its domestic institutions, and the existence of the Fugitive Slave Law. To amend the Constitution requires a majority of three-fourths of the legislatures or conventions of the States composing the Union; and, therefore, if the Government of the United States wished to abolish slavery in the different States, they must either have declared that the consent of the insurgent States was not required, which was tantamount to confessing that the Union was at an end, or else they must have broken through the Constitution, in strength of which alone they had any legal existence. The State of New York might to-morrow re-establish slavery as an institution consistently with the law, and, by the same law, the Federal Government can no more abolish slavery in Georgia, proprio motu, than it can place an export duty on any single article exported from any State in the Union. No doubt the war power might have covered, as it has since been made to cover, any breach in the letter of the Constitution, but at this period, both in the opinion of the President and the people, the time for the exercise of this ultima ratio had not arrived.
In ordinary years, before the Revolution, this excuse for inaction was valid enough ; and I think now that we in England were unjust to the Government of the United States in throwing upon it the obloquy of upholding slavery at a time when it was absolutely powerless to deal with it in the Slave States, except by overthrowing the Union, or by trampling under foot the very Constitution in virtue of which it had its being. With the insurrection, however, a new state of things came in. If advantage was not taken of this opportunity, the blame, if blame there was, must rest with the American people, not with the United States Government. The Government throughout has followed, and not led. Had any man of genius arisen at this crisis, had there been a Cromwell, a Mirabeau, or a Jefferson, the result might have been far different. But neither Lincoln, nor Seward, nor, still less, McClellan, were men to shape a nation's destinies. The one principle which the President adhered to constantly, was, that he was placed in office to carry out the will of the people.
It was with the people, and the people alone, that the real decision of policy rested. The national vote which, brought Lincoln into power was a vote against the extension of slavery, not a vote against its maintenance. When the insurrection broke out in force, and the nation awoke to its danger at the attack on Fort Sumter, the popular cry was not to abolish slavery, but to preserve the Union. The preservation of the Union was the overwhelming national instinct. It was this instinct which attempted to suppress the insurrection, and which, if possible, will suppress it in the end. It is only by working on this instinct that any of the political parties in the States can hope to achieve their ends.
Both of the extreme parties have failed hitherto to achieve their object. The pro-slavery faction has one great argument with which they seek to work on public opinion. The secession movement (so they allege, and with justice) is due to a belief in the South, whether well or ill founded, that slavery was in danger from the abolition cry in the North. Renounce this abolition theory, convince the South that slavery is not in danger, and there is an end of secession. In the early stages of the insurrection, this party had great weight; but their policy was unsuccessful, partly because the pride and principle of the North refused to follow their counsels heartily, still more, because the South rejected madly the last overtures of conciliation. It was during their temporary success that the resolution