I have seen various essays purporting to describe the causes of this civil war between the North and South; but they have generally been written with the view of vindicating either one side or the other, and have spoken rather of causes which should, according to the ideas of their writers, have produced peace, than of those which did, in the course of events, actually produce war. This has been essentially the case with Mr. Everett, who in his lecture at New York, on the 4th of July, 1860, recapitulated all the good things which the North has done for the South, and who proved — if he has proved anything — that the South should have cherished the North instead of hating it. And this was very much the case also with Mr. Motley in his letter to the London Times. That letter is good in its way, as is everything that comes from Mr. Motley, but it does not tell us why the war has existed. Why is it that eight millions of people have desired to separate themselves from a rich and mighty empire — from an empire which was apparently on its road to unprecedented success, and which had already achieved wealth, consideration, power, and internal well-being?
One would be glad to imagine, from the essays of Mr. Everett and of Mr. Motley, that slavery has had little or nothing to do with it. I must acknowledge it to be my opinion that slavery in its various bearings has been the single and necessary cause of the war; that slavery being there in the South, this war was only to be avoided by a voluntary division — secession voluntary both on the part of North and South; that in the event of such voluntary secession being not asked for, or if asked for not conceded, revolution and civil war became necessary — were not to be avoided by any wisdom or care on the part of the North.
The arguments used by both the gentlemen I have named prove very clearly that South Carolina and her sister States had no right to secede under the Constitution; that is to say, that it was not open to them peaceably to take their departure, and to refuse further allegiance to the President and Congress without a breach of the laws by which they were bound. For a certain term of years, namely, from 1781 to 1787, the different States endeavored to make their way in the world simply leagued together by certain articles of confederation. It was declared that each State retained its sovereignty, freedom, and independence; and that the said States then entered severally into a firm league of friendship with each other for their common defense. There was no President, no Congress taking the place of our Parliament, but simply a congress of delegates or ambassadors, two or three from each State, who were to act in accordance with the policy of their own individual States. It is well that this should be thoroughly understood, not as bearing on the question of the present war, but as showing that a loose confederation, not subversive of the separate independence of the States, and capable of being partially dissolved at the will of each separate State, was tried, and was found to fail. South Carolina took upon herself to act as she might have acted had that confederation remained in force; but that confederation was an acknowledged failure. National greatness could not be achieved under it, and individual enterprise could not succeed under it. Then in lieu of that, by the united consent of the thirteen States, the present Constitution was drawn up and sanctioned, and to that every State bound itself in allegiance. In that Constitution no power of secession is either named or presumed to exist. The individual sovereignty of the States had, in the first instance, been thought desirable. The young republicans hankered after the separate power and separate name which each might then have achieved; but that dream had been found vain — and therefore the States, at the cost of some fond wishes, agreed to seek together for national power rather than run the risks entailed upon separate existence. Those of my readers who may be desirous of examining this matter for themselves, are referred to the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States. The latter alone is clear enough on the subject, but is strengthened by the former in proving that under the latter no State could possess the legal power of seceding.
But they who created the Constitution, who framed the clauses, and gave to this terribly important work what wisdom they possessed, did not presume to think that it could be final. The mode of altering the Constitution is arranged in the Constitution. Such alterations must be proposed either by two-thirds of both the houses of the general Congress, or by the legislatures of two-thirds of the States; and must, when so proposed, be ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the States, (Article V.) There can, I think, be no doubt that any alteration so carried would be valid — even though that alteration should go to the extent of excluding one or any number of States from the Union. Any division so made would be made in accordance with the Constitution.
South Carolina and the Southern States no doubt felt that they would not succeed in obtaining secession in this way, and therefore they sought to obtain the separation which they wanted by revolution — by revolution and rebellion, as Naples has lately succeeded in her attempt to change her political status; as Hungary is looking to do; as Poland has been seeking to do any time since her subjection; as the revolted colonies of Great Britain succeeded in doing in 1776, whereby they created this great nation which is now undergoing all the sorrows of a civil war. The name of secession claimed by the South for this movement is a misnomer. If any part of a nationality or empire ever rebelled against the government established on behalf of the whole, South Carolina so rebelled when, on the 20th of November, 1860, she put forth her ordinance of so-called secession; and the other Southern States joined in that rebellion when they followed her lead. As to that fact, there cannot, I think, much longer be any doubt in any mind. I insist on this especially, repeating perhaps unnecessarily opinions expressed in my first volume, because I still see it stated by English writers that the secession ordinance of South Carolina should have been accepted as a political act by the Government of the United States. It seems to me that no government can in this way accept an act of rebellion without declaring its own functions to be beyond its own power.
But what if such rebellion be justifiable, or even reasonable? what if the rebels have cause for their rebellion? For no one will now deny that rebellion may be both reasonable and justifiable; or that every subject in the land may be bound in duty to rebel. In such case the government will be held to have brought about its own punishment by its own fault. But as government is a wide affair, spreading itself gradually, and growing in virtue or in vice from small beginnings — from seeds slow to produce their fruits — it is much easier to discern the incidence of the punishment than the perpetration of the fault. Government goes astray by degrees, or sins by the absence of that wisdom which should teach rulers how to make progress as progress is made by those whom they rule. The fault may be absolutely negative and have spread itself over centuries; may be, and generally has been, attributable to dull, good men; but not the less does the punishment come at a blow. The rebellion exists and cannot be put down — will put down all that opposes it; but the government is not the less bound to make its fight. That is the punishment that comes on governing men or on governing a people that govern not well or not wisely.
As Mr. Motley says in the paper to which I have alluded, “No man, on either side of the Atlantic, with Anglo-Saxon blood in his veins, will dispute the right of a people, or of any portion of a people, to rise against oppression, to demand redress of grievances, and in case of denial of justice to take up arms to vindicate the sacred principle of liberty. Few Englishmen or Americans will deny that the source of government is the consent of the governed, or that every nation has the right to govern itself according to its will. When the silent consent is changed to fierce remonstrance, revolution is impending. The right of revolution is indisputable. It is written on the whole record of our race, British and American history is made up of rebellion and revolution. Hampden, Pym, and Oliver Cromwell; Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, all were rebels.” Then comes the question whether South Carolina and the Gulf States had so suffered as to make rebellion on their behalf justifiable or reasonable; or if not, what cause had been strong enough to produce in them so strong a desire for secession, a desire which has existed for fully half the term through which the United States has existed as a nation, and so firm a resolve to rush into rebellion with the object of accomplishing that which they deemed not to be accomplished on other terms?
It must, I think, be conceded that the Gulf States have not suffered at all by their connection with the Northern States; that in lieu of any such suffering, they owe all their national greatness to the Northern States; that they have been lifted up, by the commercial energy of the Atlantic States and by the agricultural prosperity of the Western States, to a degree of national consideration and respect through the world at large which never could have belonged to them standing alone. I will not trouble my readers with statistics which few would care to follow; but let any man of ordinary every-day knowledge turn over in his own mind his present existing ideas of the wealth and commerce of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Pittsburg, and Cincinnati, and compare them with his ideas as to New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, Richmond, and Memphis. I do not name such towns as Baltimore and St. Louis, which stand in slave States, but which have raised themselves to prosperity by Northern habits. If this be not sufficient, let him refer to population tables and tables of shipping and tonnage. And of those Southern towns which I have named the commercial wealth is of Northern creation. The success of New Orleans as a city can be no more attributed to Louisianians than can that of the Havana to the men of Cuba, or of Calcutta to the natives of India. It has been a repetition of the old story, told over and over again through every century since commerce has flourished in the world; the tropics can produce, but the men from the North shall sow and reap, and garner and enjoy. As the Creator’s work has progressed, this privilege has extended itself to regions farther removed and still farther from southern influences. If we look to Europe, we see that this has been so in Greece, Italy, Spain, France, and the Netherlands; in England and Scotland; in Prussia and in Russia; and the Western World shows us the same story. Where is now the glory of the Antilles? where the riches of Mexico and the power of Peru? They still produce sugar, guano, gold, cotton, coffee — almost whatever we may ask them — and will continue to do so while held to labor under sufficient restraint; but where are their men, where are their books, where is their learning, their art, their enterprise? I say it with sad regret at the decadence of so vast a population; but I do say that the Southern States of America have not been able to keep pace with their Northern brethren; that they have fallen behind in the race, and, feeling that the struggle is too much for them, have therefore resolved to part.
The reasons put forward by the South for secession have been trifling almost beyond conception. Northern tariffs have been the first, and perhaps foremost. Then there has been a plea that the national exchequer has paid certain bounties to New England fishermen, of which the South has paid its share, getting no part of such bounty in return. There is also a complaint as to the navigation laws — meaning, I believe, that the laws of the States increase the cost of coast traffic by forbidding foreign vessels to engage in the trade, thereby increasing also the price of goods and confining the benefit to the North, which carries on the coasting trade of the country, and doing only injury to the South, which has none of it. Then last, but not least, comes that grievance as to the Fugitive Slave Law. The law of the land as a whole — the law of the nation — requires the rendition from free States of all fugitive slaves. But the free States will not obey this law. They even pass State laws in opposition to it, “Catch your own slaves,” they say, “and we will not hinder you; at any rate we will not hinder you officially. Of non-official hinderance you must take your chance. But we absolutely decline to employ our officers to catch your slaves.” That list comprises, as I take it, the amount of Southern official grievances. Southern people will tell you privately of others. They will say that they cannot sleep happy in their beds, fearing lest insurrection should be roused among their slaves. They will tell you of domestic comfort invaded by Northern falsehood. They will explain to you how false has been Mrs. Beecher Stowe. Ladies will fill your ears and your hearts too with tales of the daily efforts they make for the comfort of their “people,” and of the ruin to those efforts which arises from the malice of the abolitionists. To all this you make some answer with your tongue that is hardly true — for in such a matter courtesy forbids the plain truth. But your heart within answers truly, “Madam, dear madam, your sorrow is great; but that sorrow is the necessary result of your position.”
As to those official reasons, in what fewest words I can use I will endeavor to show that they come to nothing. The tariff — and a monstrous tariff it then was — was the ground put forward by South Carolina for secession when General Jackson was President and Mr. Calhoun was the hero of the South. Calhoun bound himself and his State to take certain steps toward secession at a certain day if that tariff were not abolished. The tariff was so absurd that Jackson and his government were forced to abandon it — would have abandoned it without any threat from Calhoun; but under that threat it was necessary that Calhoun should be defied. General Jackson proposed a compromise tariff, which was odious to Calhoun — not on its own behalf, for it yielded nearly all that was asked, but as being subversive of his desire for secession. The President, however, not only insisted on his compromise, but declared his purpose of preventing its passage into law unless Calhoun himself, as Senator, would vote for it. And he also declared his purpose — not, we may presume, officially — of hanging Calhoun, if he took that step toward secession which he had bound himself to take in the event of the tariff not being repealed. As a result of all this Calhoun voted for the compromise, and secession for the time was beaten down. That was in 1832, and may be regarded as the commencement of the secession movement. The tariff was then a convenient reason, a ground to be assigned with a color of justice because it was a tariff admitted to be bad. But the tariff has been modified again and again since that, and the tariff existing when South Carolina seceded in 1860 had been carried by votes from South Carolina. The absurd Morrill tariff could not have caused secession, for it was passed, without a struggle, in the collapse of Congress occasioned by secession.
The bounty to fishermen was given to create sailors, so that a marine might be provided for the nation. I need hardly show that the national benefit would accrue to the whole nation for whose protection such sailors were needed. Such a system of bounties may be bad; but if so, it was bad for the whole nation. It did not affect South Carolina otherwise than it affected Illinois, Pennsylvania, or even New York.
The navigation laws may also have been bad. According to my thinking such protective laws are bad; but they created no special hardship on the South. By any such a theory of complaint all sections of all nations have ground of complaint against any other section which receives special protection under any law. The drinkers of beer in England should secede because they pay a tax, whereas the consumers of paper pay none. The navigation laws of the States are no doubt injurious to the mercantile interests of the States. I at least have no doubt on the subject. But no one will think that secession is justified by the existence of a law of questionable expediency. Bad laws will go by the board if properly handled by those whom they pinch, as the navigation laws went by the board with us in England.
As to that Fugitive Slave Law, it should be explained that the grievance has not arisen from the loss of slaves. I have heard it stated that South Carolina, up to the time of the secession, had never lost a slave in this way — that is, by Northern opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law; and that the total number of slaves escaping successfully into the Northern States, and there remaining through the non-operation of this law, did not amount to five in the year. It has not been a question of property, but of feeling. It has been a political point; and the South has conceived — and probably conceived truly — that this resolution on the part of Northern States to defy the law with reference to slaves, even though in itself it might not be immediately injurious to Southern property, was an insertion of the narrow end of the wedge. It was an action taken against slavery — an action taken by men of the North against their fellow-countrymen in the South. Under such circumstances, the sooner such countrymen should cease to be their fellows the better it would be for them. That, I take it, was the argument of the South, or at any rate that was its feeling.
I have said that the reasons given for secession have been trifling, and among them have so estimated this matter of the Fugitive Slave Law. I mean to assert that the ground actually put forward is trifling — the loss, namely, of slaves to which the South has been subjected. But the true reason pointed at in this — the conviction, namely, that the North would not leave slavery alone, and would not allow it to remain as a settled institution — was by no means trifling. It has been this conviction on the part of the South that the North would not live in amity with slavery — would continue to fight it under this banner or under that, would still condemn it as disgraceful to men and rebuke it as impious before God — which has produced rebellion and civil war, and will ultimately produce that division for which the South is fighting and against which the North is fighting, and which, when accomplished, will give the North new wings, and will leave the South without political greatness or commercial success.
Under such circumstances I cannot think that rebellion on the part of the South was justified by wrongs endured, or made reasonable by the prospect of wrongs to be inflicted. It is disagreeable, that having to live with a wife who is always rebuking one for some special fault; but the outside world will not grant a divorce on that account, especially if the outside world is well aware that the fault so rebuked is of daily occurrence. “If you do not choose to be called a drunkard by your wife,” the outside world will say, “it will be well that you should cease to drink.” Ah! but that habit of drinking, when once acquired, cannot easily be laid aside. The brain will not work; the organs of the body will not perform their functions; the blood will not run. The drunkard must drink till he dies. All that may be a good ground for divorce, the outside world will say; but the plea should be put in by the sober wife, not by the intemperate husband. But what if the husband takes himself off without any divorce, and takes with him also his wife’s property, her earnings, that on which he has lived and his children? It may be a good bargain still for her, the outside world will say; but she, if she be a woman of spirit, will not willingly put up with such wrongs. The South has been the husband drunk with slavery, and the North has been the ill-used wife.
Rebellion, as I have said, is often justifiable but it is, I think, never justifiable on the part of a paid servant of that government against which it is raised. We must, at any rate, feel that this is true of men in high places — as regards those men to whom by reason of their offices it should specially belong to put down rebellion. Had Washington been the governor of Virginia, had Cromwell been a minister of Charles, had Garibaldi held a marshal’s baton under the Emperor of Austria or the King of Naples, those men would have been traitors as well as rebels. Treason and rebellion may be made one under the law, but the mind will always draw the distinction. I, if I rebel against the Crown, am not on that account necessarily a traitor. A betrayal of trust is, I take it, necessary to treason. I am not aware that Jefferson Davis is a traitor; but that Buchanan was a traitor admits, I think, of no doubt. Under him, and with his connivance, the rebellion was allowed to make its way. Under him, and by his officers, arms and ships and men and money were sent away from those points at which it was known that they would be needed, if it were intended to put down the coming rebellion, and to those points at which it was known that they would be needed, if it were intended to foster the coming rebellion. But Mr. Buchanan had no eager feeling in favor of secession. He was not of that stuff of which are made Davis, and Toombs, and Slidell. But treason was easier to him than loyalty. Remonstrance was made to him, pointing out the misfortunes which his action, or want of action, would bring upon the country. “Not in my time,” he answered. “It will not be in my time.” So that he might escape unscathed out of the fire, this chief ruler of a nation of thirty millions of men was content to allow treason and rebellion to work their way! I venture to say so much here as showing how impossible it was that Mr. Lincoln’s government, on its coming into office, should have given to the South, not what the South had asked, for the South had not asked, but what the South had taken, what the South had tried to filch. Had the South waited for secession till Mr. Lincoln had been in his chair, I could understand that England should sympathize with her. For myself I cannot agree to that scuttling of the ship by the captain on the day which was to see the transfer of his command to another officer.
The Southern States were driven into rebellion by no wrongs inflicted on them; but their desire for secession is not on that account matter for astonishment. It would have been surprising had they not desired secession. Secession of one kind, a very practical secession, had already been forced upon them by circumstances. They had become a separate people, dissevered from the North by habits, morals, institutions, pursuits, and every conceivable difference in their modes of thought and action. They still spoke the same language, as do Austria and Prussia; but beyond that tie of language they had no bond but that of a meager political union in their Congress at Washington. Slavery, as it had been expelled from the North, and as it had come to be welcomed in the South, had raised such a wall of difference that true political union was out of the question. It would be juster, perhaps, to say that those physical characteristics of the South which had induced this welcoming of slavery, and those other characteristics of the North which had induced its expulsion, were the true causes of the difference. For years and years this has been felt by both, and the fight has been going on. It has been continued for thirty years, and almost always to the detriment of the South. In 1845 Florida and Texas were admitted into the Union as slave States. I think that no State had then been admitted, as a free State, since Michigan, in 1836. In 1846 Iowa was admitted as a free State, and from that day to this Wisconsin, California, Minnesota, Oregon, and Kansas have been brought into the Union; all as free States. The annexation of another slave State to the existing Union had become, I imagine, impossible — unless such object were gained by the admission of Texas. We all remember that fight about Kansas, and what sort of a fight it was! Kansas lies alongside of Missouri, a slave State, and is contiguous to no other State. If the free-soil party could, in the days of Pierce and Buchanan, carry the day in Kansas, it is not likely that they would be beaten on any new ground under such a President as Lincoln. We have all heard in Europe how Southern men have ruled in the White House, nearly from the days of Washington downward; or if not Southern men, Northern men, such as Pierce and Buchanan, with Southern politics; and therefore we have been taught to think that the South has been politically the winning party. They have, in truth, been the losing party as regards national power. But what they have so lost they have hitherto recovered by political address and individual statecraft. The leading men of the South have seen their position, and have gone to their work with the exercise of all their energies. They organized the Democratic party so as to include the leaders among the Northern politicians. They never begrudged to these assistants a full share of the good things of official life. They have been aided by the fanatical abolitionism of the North by which the Republican party has been divided into two sections. It has been fashionable to be a Democrat, that is, to hold Southern politics, and unfashionable to be a Republican, or to hold anti-Southern politics. In that way the South has lived and struggled on against the growing will of the population; but at last that will became too strong, and when Mr. Lincoln was elected, the South knew that its day was over.
It is not surprising that the South should have desired secession. It is not surprising that it should have prepared for it. Since the days of Mr. Calhoun its leaders have always understood its position with a fair amount of political accuracy. Its only chance of political life lay in prolonged ascendency at Washington. The swelling crowds of Germans, by whom the Western States were being filled, enlisted themselves to a man in the ranks of abolition. What was the acquisition of Texas against such hosts as these? An evil day was coming on the Southern politicians, and it behooved them to be prepared. As a separate nation — a nation trusting to cotton, having in their hands, as they imagined, a monopoly of the staple of English manufacture, with a tariff of their own, and those rabid curses on the source of all their wealth no longer ringing in their ears, what might they not do as a separate nation? But as a part of the Union, they were too weak to hold their own if once their political finesse should fail them. That day came upon them, not unexpected, in 1860, and therefore they cut the cable.
And all this has come from slavery. It is hard enough, for how could the South have escaped slavery? How, at least, could the South have escaped slavery any time during these last thirty years? And is it, moreover, so certain that slavery is an unmitigated evil, opposed to God’s will, and producing all the sorrows which have ever been produced by tyranny and wrong? It is here, after all, that one comes to the difficult question. Here is the knot which the fingers of men cannot open, and which admits of no sudden cutting with the knife. I have likened the slaveholding States to the drunken husband, and in so doing have pronounced judgment against them. As regards the state of the drunken man, his unfitness for partnership with any decent, diligent, well-to-do wife, his ruined condition, and shattered prospects, the simile, I think, holds good. But I refrain from saying that as the fault was originally with the drunkard in that he became such, so also has the fault been with the slave States. At any rate I refrain from so saying here, on this page. That the position of a slaveowner is terribly prejudicial, not to the slave, of whom I do not here speak, but to the owner; of so much at any rate I feel assured. That the position is therefore criminal and damnable, I am not now disposed to take upon myself to assert.
The question of slavery in America cannot be handled fully and fairly by any one who is afraid to go back upon the subject, and take its whole history since one man first claimed and exercised the right of forcing labor from another man. I certainly am afraid of any such task; but I believe that there has been no period yet, since the world’s work began, when such a practice has not prevailed in a large portion, probably in the largest portion, of the world’s work fields. As civilization has made its progress, it has been the duty and delight, as it has also been the interest of the men at the top of affairs, not to lighten the work of the men below, but so to teach them that they should recognize the necessity of working without coercion. Emancipation of serfs and thrals, of bondsmen and slaves, has always meant this — that men having been so taught, should then work without coercion.
In talking or writing of slaves, we always now think of the negro slave. Of us Englishmen it must at any rate be acknowledged that we have done what in us lay to induce him to recognize this necessity for labor. At any rate we acted on the presumption that he would do so, and gave him his liberty throughout all our lands at a cost which has never yet been reckoned up in pounds, shillings, and pence. The cost never can be reckoned up, nor can the gain which we achieved in purging ourselves from the degradation and demoralization of such employment. We come into court with clean hands, having done all that lay with us to do to put down slavery both at home and abroad. But when we enfranchised the negroes, we did so with the intention, at least, that they should work as free men. Their share of the bargain in that respect they have declined to keep, wherever starvation has not been the result of such resolve on their part; and from the date of our emancipation, seeing the position which the negroes now hold with us, the Southern States of America have learned to regard slavery as a permanent institution, and have taught themselves to regard it as a blessing, and not as a curse.
Negroes were first taken over to America because the white man could not work under the tropical heats, and because the native Indian would not work. The latter people has been, or soon will be, exterminated — polished off the face of creation, as the Americans say — which fate must, I should say, in the long run attend all non-working people. As the soil of the world is required for increasing population, the non-working people must go. And so the Indians have gone. The negroes, under compulsion, did work, and work well; and under their hands vast regions of the western tropics became fertile gardens. The fact that they were carried up into northern regions which from their nature did not require such aid, that slavery prevailed in New York and Massachusetts, does not militate against my argument. The exact limits of any great movement will not be bounded by its purpose. The heated wax which you drop on your letter spreads itself beyond the necessities of your seal. That these negroes would not have come to the Western World without compulsion, or having come, would not have worked without compulsion, is, I imagine, acknowledged by all. That they have multiplied in the Western World and have there become a race happier, at any rate in all the circumstances of their life, than their still untamed kinsmen in Africa, must also be acknowledged. Who, then, can dare to wish that all that has been done by the negro immigration should have remained undone?
The name of slave is odious to me. If I know myself I would not own a negro though he could sweat gold on my behoof. I glory in that bold leap in the dark which England took with regard to her own West Indian slaves. But I do not see the less clearly the difficulty of that position in which the Southern States have been placed; and I will not call them wicked, impious, and abominable, because they now hold by slavery, as other nations have held by it at some period of their career. It is their misfortune that they must do so now — now, when so large a portion of the world has thrown off the system, spurning as base and profitless all labor that is not free. It is their misfortune, for henceforth they must stand alone, with small rank among the nations, whereas their brethren of the North will still “flame in the forehead of the morning sky.”
When the present Constitution of the United States was written — the merit of which must probably be given mainly to Madison and Hamilton, Madison finding the French democratic element, and Hamilton the English conservative element — this question of slavery was doubtless a great trouble. The word itself is not mentioned in the Constitution. It speaks not of a slave, but of a “person held to service or labor.” It neither sanctions nor forbids slavery. It assumes no power in the matter of slavery; and under it, at the present moment, all Congress voting together, with the full consent of the legislatures of thirty-three States, could not constitutionally put down slavery in the remaining thirty-fourth State. In fact the Constitution ignored the subject.
But, nevertheless, Washington, and Jefferson from whom Madison received his inspiration, were opposed to slavery. I do not know that Washington ever took much action in the matter, but his expressed opinion is on record. But Jefferson did so throughout his life. Before the Declaration of Independence he endeavored to make slavery illegal in Virginia. In this he failed, but long afterward, when the United States was a nation, he succeeded in carrying a law by which the further importation of slaves into any of the States was prohibited after a certain year — 1820. When this law was passed, the framers of it considered that the gradual abolition of slavery would be secured. Up to that period the negro population in the States had not been self-maintained. As now in Cuba, the numbers had been kept up by new importations, and it was calculated that the race, when not recruited from Africa, would die out. That this calculation was wrong we now know, and the breeding-grounds of Virginia have been the result.
At that time there were no cotton fields. Alabama and Mississippi were outlying territories. Louisiana had been recently purchased, but was not yet incorporated as a State. Florida still belonged to Spain, and was all but unpopulated. Of Texas no man had yet heard. Of the slave States, Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia were alone wedded to slavery. Then the matter might have been managed. But under the Constitution as it had been framed, and with the existing powers of the separate States, there was not even then open any way by which slavery could be abolished other than by the separate action of the States; nor has there been any such way opened since. With slavery these Southern States have grown and become fertile. The planters have thriven, and the cotton fields have spread themselves. And then came emancipation in the British islands. Under such circumstances and with such a lesson, could it be expected that the Southern States should learn to love abolition?
It is vain to say that slavery has not caused secession, and that slavery has not caused the war. That, and that only, has been the real cause of this conflict, though other small collateral issues may now be put forward to bear the blame. Those other issues have arisen from this question of slavery, and are incidental to it and a part of it. Massachusetts, as we all know, is democratic in its tendencies, but South Carolina is essentially aristocratic. This difference has come of slavery. A slave country, which has progressed far in slavery, must be aristocratic in its nature — aristocratic and patriarchal. A large slaveowner from Georgia may call himself a democrat, may think that he reveres republican institutions, and may talk with American horror of the thrones of Europe; but he must in his heart be an aristocrat. We, in England, are apt to speak of republican institutions, and of universal suffrage, which is perhaps the chief of them, as belonging equally to all the States. In South Carolina there is not and has not been any such thing. The electors for the President there are chosen not by the people, but by the legislature; and the votes for the legislature are limited by a high property qualification. A high property qualification is required for a member of the House of Representatives in South Carolina; four hundred freehold acres of land and ten negroes is one qualification. Five hundred pounds clear of debt is another qualification; for, where a sum of money is thus named, it is given in English money. Russia and England are not more unlike in their political and social feelings than are the real slave States and the real free-soil States. The gentlemen from one and from the other side of the line have met together on neutral ground, and have discussed political matters without flying frequently at each other’s throats, while the great question on which they differed was allowed to slumber. But the awakening has been coming by degrees, and now the South had felt that it was come. Old John Brown, who did his best to create a servile insurrection at Harper’s Ferry, has been canonized through the North and West, to the amazement and horror of the South. The decision in the “Dred Scott” case, given by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, has been received with shouts of execration through the North and West. The Southern gentry have been Uncle-Tommed into madness. It is no light thing to be told daily by your fellow-citizens, by your fellow-representatives, by your fellow-senators, that you are guilty of the one damning sin that cannot be forgiven. All this they could partly moderate, partly rebuke, and partly bear as long as political power remained in their hands; but they have gradually felt that that was going, and were prepared to cut the rope and run as soon as it was gone.
Such, according to my ideas, have been the causes of the war. But I cannot defend the South. As long as they could be successful in their schemes for holding the political power of the nation, they were prepared to hold by the nation. Immediately those schemes failed, they were prepared to throw the nation overboard. In this there has undoubtedly been treachery as well as rebellion. Had these politicians been honest — though the political growth of Washington has hardly admitted of political honesty — but had these politicians been even ordinarily respectable in their dishonesty, they would have claimed secession openly before Congress, while yet their own President was at the White House. Congress would not have acceded. Congress itself could not have acceded under the Constitution; but a way would have been found, had the Southern States been persistent in their demand. A way, indeed, has been found; but it has lain through fire and water, through blood and ruin, through treason and theft, and the downfall of national greatness. Secession will, I think, be accomplished, and the Southern Confederation of States will stand something higher in the world than Mexico and the republics of Central America. Her cotton monopoly will have vanished, and her wealth will have been wasted.
I think that history will agree with me in saying that the Northern States had no alternative but war. What concession could they make? Could they promise to hold their peace about slavery? And had they so promised, would the South have believed them? They might have conceded secession; that is, they might have given all that would have been demanded. But what individual chooses to yield to such demands. And if not an individual, then what people will do so? But, in truth, they could not have yielded all that was demanded. Had secession been granted to South Carolina and Georgia, Virginia would have been coerced to join those States by the nature of her property, and with Virginia Maryland would have gone, and Washington, the capital. What may be the future line of division between the North and the South, I will not pretend to say; but that line will probably be dictated by the North. It may still be hoped that Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland will go with the North, and be rescued from slavery. But had secession been yielded, had the prestige of success fallen to the lot of the South, those States must have become Southern.
While on the subject of slavery — for in discussing the cause of the war, slavery is the subject that must be discussed — I cannot forbear to say a few words about the negroes of the North American States. The Republican party of the North is divided into two sections, of which one may be called abolitionist, and the other non-abolitionist. Mr. Lincoln’s government presumes itself to belong to the latter, though its tendencies toward abolition are very strong. The abolition party is growing in strength daily. It is but a short time since Wendell Phillips could not lecture in Boston without a guard of police. Now, at this moment of my writing, he is a popular hero. The very men who, five years since, were accustomed to make speeches, strong as words could frame them, against abolition, are now turning round, and, if not preaching abolition, are patting the backs of those who do so. I heard one of Mr. Lincoln’s cabinet declare old John Brown to be a hero and a martyr. All the Protestant Germans are abolitionists — and they have become so strong a political element in the country that many now declare that no future President can be elected without their aid. The object is declared boldly. No long political scheme is asked for, but instant abolition is wanted; abolition to be declared while yet the war is raging. Let the slaves of all rebels be declared free; and all slaveowners in the seceding States are rebels!
One cannot but ask what abolition means, and to what it would lead. Any ordinance of abolition now pronounced would not effect the emancipation of the slaves, but might probably effect a servile insurrection. I will not accuse those who are preaching this crusade of any desire for so fearful a scourge on the land. They probably calculate that an edict of abolition once given would be so much done toward the ultimate winning of the battle. They are making their hay while their sun shines. But if they could emancipate those four million slaves, in what way would they then treat them? How would they feed them? In what way would they treat the ruined owners of the slaves, and the acres of land which would lie uncultivated? Of all subjects with which a man may be called on to deal, it is the most difficult. But a New England abolitionist talks of it as though no more were required than an open path for his humanitarian energies. “I could arrange it all tomorrow morning,” a gentleman said to me, who is well known for his zeal in this cause!
Arrange it all tomorrow morning — abolition of slavery having become a fact during the night! I should not envy that gentleman his morning’s work. It was bad enough with us; but what were our numbers compared with those of the Southern States? We paid a price for the slaves, but no price is to be paid in this case. The value of the property would probably be lowly estimated at 100l. a piece for men, women, and children, or 4,000,000l. sterling for the whole population. They form the wealth of the South; and if they were bought, what should be done with them? They are like children. Every slaveowner in the country — every man who has had aught to do with slaves — will tell the same story. In Maryland and Delaware are men who hate slavery, who would be only too happy to enfranchise their slaves; but the negroes who have been slaves are not fit for freedom. In many cases, practically, they cannot be enfranchised. Give them their liberty, starting them well in the world at what expense you please, and at the end of six months they will come back upon your hands for the means of support. Everything must be done for them. They expect food and clothes, and instruction as to every simple act of life, as do children. The negro domestic servant is handy at his own work; no servant more so; but he cannot go beyond that. He does not comprehend the object and purport of continued industry. If he have money, he will play with it — he will amuse himself with it. If he have none, he will amuse himself without it. His work is like a school-boy’s task; he knows it must be done, but never comprehends that the doing of it is the very end and essence of his life. He is a child in all things, and the extent of prudential wisdom to which he ever attains is to disdain emancipation and cling to the security of his bondage. It is true enough that slavery has been a curse. Whatever may have been its effect on the negroes, it has been a deadly curse upon the white masters.
The preaching of abolition during the war is to me either the deadliest of sins or the vainest of follies. Its only immediate result possible would be servile insurrection. That is so manifestly atrocious, a wish for it would be so hellish, that I do not presume the preachers of abolition to entertain it. But if that be not meant, it must be intended that an act of emancipation should be carried throughout the slave States — either in their separation from the North, or after their subjection and consequent reunion with the North. As regards the States while in secession, the North cannot operate upon their slaves any more than England can operate on the slaves of Cuba. But if a reunion is to be a precursor of emancipation, surely that reunion should be first effected. A decision in the Northern and Western mind on such a subject cannot assist in obtaining that reunion, but must militate against the practicability of such an object. This is so well understood that Mr. Lincoln and his government do not dare to call themselves abolitionists.*
* President Lincoln has proposed a plan for the emancipation of slaves in the border States, which gives compensation to the owners. His doing so proves that he regards present emancipation in the Gulf States as quite out of the question. It also proves that he looks forward to the recovery of the border States for the North, but that he does not look forward to the recovery of the Gulf States.
Abolition, in truth, is a political cry. It is the banner of defiance opposed to secession. As the differences between the North and South have grown with years, and have swelled to the proportions of national antipathy, Southern nullification has amplified itself into secession, and Northern free-soil principles have burst into this growth of abolition. Men have not calculated the results. Charming pictures are drawn for you of the negro in a state of Utopian bliss, owning his own hoe and eating his own hog; in a paradise, where everything is bought and sold, except his wife, his little ones, and himself. But the enfranchised negro has always thrown away his hoe, has eaten any man’s hog but his own, and has too often sold his daughter for a dollar when any such market has been open to him.
I confess that this cry of abolition has been made peculiarly displeasing to me by the fact that the Northern abolitionist is by no means willing to give even to the negro who is already free that position in the world which alone might tend to raise him in the scale of human beings — if anything can so raise him and make him fit for freedom. The abolitionists hold that the negro is the white man’s equal. I do not. I see, or think that I see, that the negro is the white man’s inferior through laws of nature. That he is not mentally fit to cope with white men — I speak of the full-blooded negro — and that he must fill a position simply servile. But the abolitionist declares him to be the white man’s equal. But yet, when he has him at his elbow, he treats him with a scorn which even the negro can hardly endure. I will give him political equality, but not social equality, says the abolitionist. But even in this he is untrue. A black man may vote in New York, but he cannot vote under the same circumstances as a white man. He is subjected to qualifications which in truth debar him from the poll. A white man votes by manhood suffrage, providing he has been for one year an inhabitant of his State; but a man of color must have been for three years a citizen of the State, and must own a property qualification of 50l. free of debt. But political equality is not what such men want, nor indeed is it social equality. It is social tolerance and social sympathy, and these are denied to the negro. An American abolitionist would not sit at table with a negro. He might do so in England at the house of an English duchess, but in his own country the proposal of such a companion would be an insult to him. He will not sit with him in a public carriage, if he can avoid it. In New York I have seen special street cars for colored people. The abolitionist is struck with horror when he thinks that a man and a brother should be a slave; but when the man and the brother has been made free, he is regarded with loathing and contempt. All this I cannot see with equanimity. There is falsehood in it from the beginning to the end. The slave, as a rule, is well treated — gets all he wants and almost all he desires. The free negro, as a rule, is ill treated, and does not get that consideration which alone might put him in the worldly position for which his advocate declares him to be fit. It is false throughout, this preaching. The negro is not the white man’s equal by nature. But to the free negro in the Northern States this inequality is increased by the white man’s hardness to him.
In a former book which I wrote some few years since, I expressed an opinion as to the probable destiny of this race in the West Indies. I will not now go over that question again. I then divided the inhabitants of those islands into three classes — the white, the black, and the colored, taking a nomenclature which I found there prevailing. By colored men I alluded to mulattoes, and all those of mixed European and African blood. The word “colored,” in the States, seems to apply to the whole negro race, whether full-blooded or half-blooded. I allude to this now because I wish to explain that, in speaking of what I conceive to be the intellectual inferiority of the negro race, I allude to those of pure negro descent — or of descent so nearly pure as to make the negro element manifestly predominant. In the West Indies, where I had more opportunity of studying the subject, I always believed myself able to tell a negro from a colored man. Indeed, the classes are to a great degree distinct there, the greater portion of the retail trade of the country being in the hands of the colored people. But in the States I have been able to make no such distinction. One sees generally neither the rich yellow of the West Indian mulatto nor the deep oily black of the West Indian negro. The prevailing hue is a dry, dingy brown — almost dusty in its dryness. I have observed but little difference made between the negro and the half-caste — and no difference in the actual treatment. I have never met in American society any man or woman in whose veins there can have been presumed to be any taint of African blood. In Jamaica they are daily to be found in society.
Every Englishman probably looks forward to the accomplishment of abolition of slavery at some future day. I feel as sure of it as I do of the final judgment. When or how it shall come, I will not attempt to foretell. The mode which seems to promise the surest success and the least present or future inconvenience, would be an edict enfranchising all female children born after a certain date, and all their children. Under such an arrangement the negro population would probably die out slowly — very slowly. What might then be the fate of the cotton fields of the Gulf States, who shall dare to say? It may be that coolies from India and from China will then have taken the place of the negro there, as they probably will have done also in Guiana and the West Indies.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01