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of Congress, proposing still further to limit its own, power with regard to legislation on slavery, was proposed and carried. The success of the abolitionist party, pur et simple, has hardly been more decisive. A sort of political John the Baptists, preaching in the wilderness, the number of their followers has fluctuated according to the apprehension of the coming danger. Their text is as simple as it is earnest. Slavery is the one cause of secession. Between the Free North and the Slave South there can never be union as long as slavery exists, and therefore, for the sake of the Union (not so much, remark, for the sake of the sin), slavery must be suppressed. Obviously the strength of such a cry varies inversely with the probabilities of simple military success. Whenever the fortunes of the North seemed lowest, the abolition cry has been most powerful. At the time when this proclamation was issued, and it seemed likely that the insurrection would be suppressed without any pronunciamento as to slavery, the abolition appeal had lost half its weight. The Union victories for the hour suspended the progress of the anti-slavery sentiment. “Six months ago," I remember a friend of McClellan's saying to me about this period, "we were all abolitionists, now we are all for the Union.”
What the numerical strength of the pro-slavery and abolitionist parties was when secession broke out, it is impossible to ascertain accurately. I am convinced, however, that either of them formed a very small minority
compared with what might fairly be called the great Union majority. That majority had no political organization, and was probably composed pretty equally out of the democratic and republican parties. We should be unjust of accusing it of any sympathy with slavery ; we should be doing it more than justice in asserting that it had any deliberate purpose of suppressing slavery. To account for this almost universal acquiescence in the maintenance of the status quo, the following facts should be borne in mind :—The popular instinct, more acute and intelligent than we can conceive in Europe, taught the people that any outspoken decision on slavery would have alienated the loyal Slave States, and thus retarded, if not destroyed, the prospect of restoring the Union. Again, any vigorous action as to slavery was inconsistent with the Constitution; while the whole strength of the North, at the first outburst of the war, lay in the fact that it was upholding the Constitution. In England we have been accustomed to assert that during this insurrection-revolution as yet it is not—the Federal Constitution has been frequently violated. Whether this opinion is right or wrong in the abstract, it matters not: it is enough to say that it was not the opinion of the Americans themselves. To the written letter of the Constitution they clung with a, to me, surprising tenacity-partly, I fancy, because the national reverence for the founders of the Union is a matter of almost religious sentiment, partly because of a general conviction that strict, unswerving adherence to the Constitution is the one bar to a rule of unbridled democracy. It was for this cause that the chief oppo nents of any unconstitutional action on the subject of slavery were the native Americans, while the German emigrants were the staunchest supporters of Fremont and revolutionary measures. The fear of alienating the Border States, the dread of rerolution, and the respect for the Constitution, were the great principles which then actuated, and still actuate, the policy of the majority. The Union before all, and above all, now and for ever, one, and indivisible, was their watchword and their rallying cry.
The question at issue, moreover, was not one of principle only, but of immediate action. The capture of Fort Donelson and the evacuation of Nashville had restored the Western portion and the capital of the State of Tennessee to the Union, before either people or Government had decided upon, or even dreamed of deciding upon, any policy with regard to the manner in which the seceding States should be dealt with after subjugation. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” has been throughout the one principle of national policy, and, possibly, it may prove a wise one. There is a story reported of Blondin, that when some one asked him how he ever had the nerve to proceed, when he reflected on the long stretch of rope over which he has to pass, he answered, “I never think of anything
except how to take the step before me.” So it has been with the North ; and thus, when the condition of Tennessee called for some immediate action, there was no policy prepared. To re-establish the power of the Union was the one thing which a nation could see its way to, and so Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee slaveholder, was appointed Provisional Governor; all questions as to the domestic institutions of the revolted State or its relations to the Union were left to decide themselves; and the status quo was re-established.
It was hardly to be expected that a Government like that of the United States should do more than side with the decision, or rather the indecision, of the nation. This is what Mr. Lincoln did. His proposition, he stated explicitly, “ sets up no claim of a right of “a Federal authority to interfere with slavery within “State limits.” In other words, he recognised the constitutional existence of the revolted States, and their continued possession of a right, as States, to deal with their own domestic institutions.
The step, small as, at the time, it may have seemed to us, was a great step forward. For the first time in the history of abolitionism, a distinct, if not a feasible plan was proposed for the emancipation of the slaves. For the first time, also, in the history of the United States the expediency of Abolition was announced as a principle of Government. The delenda est Carthago was uttered, timidly and apologetically if you will, but still officially. On the eve of expected victory, the President called upon Congress to declare that the abolition of slavery was in itself desirable, and that the Central Government ought to aid in its extinction. A leading Abolitionist said to me at the time, “ It has taken us two months' constant pressure to induce the President to issue this message.” The sensation with which it was received throughout the States showed the importance popularly attached to its issue.
To understand the feelings with which the nation entered on this, the first step in the Abolition programme, it may be well to quote some expressions of the different organs of political opinion in the North upon this edict, uttered at the time of its appearance.
Let me quote, first, a paragraph from an article published at this period on the subject of the Message from the New York Tribune, the organ of the moderate anti-slavery party :-“No one who has not thoughtfully “ and carefully and earnestly considered President “ Lincoln's proclamation will be likely to realize how “ admirable and comprehensive are its suggestions, and “how surely their adoption will conduce to national “ integrity and internal peace. Look for a moment at “ the question of negro expatriation, which is one of the “ chief difficulties of our position. There are many “ worthy and good men, and ten times more of the “ other sort, who hold, that whenever slavery is abolished “ the negro should be sent out of the country. We