« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
tives of common interest, and held together by the precarious band of mutual consent, divergent interests might at any time dissolve it. Against the contingency of a formidable secession no provision was intrusted to the chief magistrate. External pressure on the arch of the Constitution would only unite it more firmly, but a blow from within would loosen the entire fabric. Accordingly, we have seen that, for a time, the nation went on expanding respectable in the eyes of the world, and admirable in the sight of itself. No convulsions shook it, no danger from without menaced it; its commerce increased enormously, its territory grew to vastness, and, in proportion, its voice was raised in bluster, aggression, and self-glorification. But a shrewd glance might perceive that the Constitution, framed with a view to common interests and to existing necessities, no longer fulfilled its purpose. The interests of the original consenting parties had ceased to be common-had even become hostile; and the necessities which the Union had been intended to provide for, had long ceased to be felt. New states, with different climates and different products, had been joined to the original framework; but while dominion increased, and with it the difficulty of reconciling contending interests, the power of the Government remained as before. It was clear that the Confederated States had outgrown the institutions which united them, and out of the territory sufficient for half-a-dozen kingdoms, it was now sought to form a separate dominion. In so natural a desire, it is impossible for any but an enthusiastic admirer of the Union to find anything to condemn. It is not difficult for a true friend of the American people to find in it much to approve.
The grudge between North and South is of old standing. Nearly thirty years ago, South Carolina sought to secede, but was forcibly retained in the Union. Amidst the
mutual bitter feeling that has constantly increased, North and South vied with each other in lauding the star-spangled banner that typified their fraternity. Their praises of it had become so habitual, the truth of them was so unquestioned, that to consider the Union as the perfection of human wisdom, was the first article of the national creed; and the strange spectacle was exhibited of the two great territorial divisions of the Republic expressing for each other the most bitter hatred, yet exalting to the skies the Constitution that united them. And now we behold the still stranger spectacle of the North exchanging with the South virulent defiance, yet preparing by force to retain it in the bonds of brotherhood. Jonathan entertains the worst possible opinion of the recusant David, yet, in the most opprobrious and exasperating terms, persists, sword in hand, in recalling him to his embrace. This position of affairs has something puzzling to a disinterested spectator. We can all understand why frowning Austria should wish to retain her hold on scowling Venetia-why Naples should have desired to coerce revolted Sicily; but it is by no means so self-evident why the North should press this thorn so fervently to her bosom. There was indeed a time when it might be thought a duty of the Government to take immediate steps to stop secession. It was when South Carolina stood alone-when it was believed that the revolt had originated in a faction that could not claim to represent the real opinion of the South, or of the single state, and that the majority of South Carolinians, surprised into temporary acquiescence, were only awaiting deliverance to declare for the Union. It was believed, too, that the real cause for secession was the intolerable assumption by the South that, unless an advocate of Southern views should always be elected to the Presidency, she would withdraw and declare herself independent. But it is evident that the election
of Mr Lincoln only precipitated a long-concerted plan, and that the South is at least as unanimous for secession as the North is for coercion. We said that no attempt has been made to prove that secession menaces in any way the true interests of the American people. Let us suppose that a separation has been peaceably effected, and a rival independent government established. It cannot be pretended that the commerce of either will be on a worse footing than at present. Cultivation, manufactures, exchange of commodities, will go on as before -the traffic with foreigners will continue to increase. Each will be formidable for defence against a foreign enemy; and though the Union will certainly be vitiated by secession, whether violent or peaceable, yet a new confederation may be formed not less binding than the former, of extent more commensurate with the federal power, and with better promise of stability. The influence of the States thus partitioned will certainly be diminished. They will no more retain their former importance than the halves of a split diamond will bear its original value. But in the lament of the Federalists for their lost prestige we cannot join. We shall feel as we do towards a friend whose loss of importance is to him a real gain in the beneficial influence which it exerts on his character, and whom we may well congratulate on exchanging a pernicious elevation for a more safe and suitable position. The main source of the less pleasing points of American character has been their undisputed supremacy on that great continent. Amongst the great powers of Europe courtesy and forbearance have become essential attributes of their constant intercourse. The necessity for defence against formidable neighbours has armed governments with the power to assert law and order in their own territories. The web of foreign politics and diplomacy that is created by their rivalries, jealousies, and common inte
VOL. XC.-NO. DXLIX.
rests, gives full employment to the men among them of the best intellect and the highest honour. Thus, those who are the rightful leaders of opinion find full scope for their energies, the character of statesmanship is raised, and with it that of the nations who look to these leaders for guidance. But in America the best minds are not employed in the service of the State. The sovereignty of the people, always the dominant element in the Constitution, has gone on increasing. The country being exposed to none of the vicissitudes and contests that keep the kingdoms of Europe on their guard, the class that engrosses political power has never felt the need of the guidance of superior minds, but contents itself with the service of those who are most ready blindly to do its will. No one who knows America can be ignorant that her upper classes contain as large a proportion of excellent, high-principled, well-informed, sagacious men as are to be found in any country; but neither can any one who knows America be ignorant that these have but an inadequate and insignificant share in the direction of her affairs. Men who will not stoop to cajole a mob, or to scuffle for a place, naturally stand aloof from an arena where Ulysses counts for no more than Thersiteswhere Achilles, sprung from the gods, is lost in the crowd of the Myrmidons. Their opinions respecting the institutions of America would scarcely be more indulgent than our own, because it is the working of these institutions which has robbed the men of whom we speak of their just influence in the State; and we should lament no change that brought these men into their proper position, and rescued American politics and statesmanship from the tumultuous control of the populace. And, with a rival government on the frontier, with vital interests to be guarded, with great principles to be not vapoured about but put to the proof, we should probably see
the natural aristocracy rise from the dead level of the Republic, raising the national character with its own elevation; and the great men that America still owes to the world would appear in number and degree commensurate with her natural advantages, and with the reputation of the race from whom her people sprung.
While we believe, then, that a rival dominion on the continent would be thus wholesome for America, without diminishing her material prosperity, we are no less confident that her relations with foreign states will be infinitely more agreeable than before. The salutary check of a neighbour who may become an enemy, will produce there, as in Europe, a courteous and considerate diplomacy. We shall no more have forced on us the unpleasant alternative of admitting arrogant pretensions or engaging in a senseless quarrel. Urged by the dominant class, which cannot be expected to appreciate or to practice courtesy or moderation, American statesmen are generally ready to enforce their diplomacy with the threat of war. It is to no purpose to remember that we have nothing to fear in a war with a nation whose warlike powers are so insignificant compared with our own. Though we should never doubt the issue of such a contest, yet victory would bring us no benefit, not even glory, and the loss of commerce and expenditure would be incurred for a barren result. Thus America is always secure of the forbearance which prudent strength must accord to recklessness in matters not of vital importance. But these relations are not good for either nation; and diplomacy will gain immensely by a change which promises to reduce such statesmen as Seward, and such officers as Harney, to their proper level.
Seeing, then, in secession, no menace to the best interests of America, and to ourselves only advantage, we have only to consider whether it contravenes any great
principle of right. A great principle was involved in the late struggle in Naples. A great principle is involved on each side of the question whether Italy or Austria should hold Venetia. But the only element of general interest in the present quarrel is the question of Slavery. It has been insinuated that in not siding with the North we are false to our own principles, and are, in fact, suppporting that institution which we have professed ourselves so anxious to abolish. But, to make this charge good, it must be shown that slavery is the actual ground of quarrel, that the continued existence of the Union would have suppressed or discouraged it, and that Secession will foster and extend it. Not only is all this without proof, but it is contrary to evidence. We will quote on this point the testimony of the New York Times, which calls the southern men conspirators, and their secession "a great crime against humanity." Enlarging on the absence of provocation for the separation, and on the benefits which the Union has conferred on the South, it says,
"In no solitary instance have their rights been infringed, their liberties abridged, or their interests invaded by the Government of the United States. On the contrary, they have known that Government only by the blessings it has conferred upon them. It has fought their battles, enlarged their area, paid for their postal service, augmented their power and consideration abroad, and shielded their peculiar institution from the hatred and hostility of the civilised world. But for the Union, and the protection which it has afforded them, they would long since have sunk under the weight of their own evils, or been crushed by the enmity of hostile powers. During the whole period of their connection with the Union they cannot point to a single instance of hostile or unfriendly action on the part of the United States. Not a single law has ever been passed interfering with slavery
in the slightest degree, while scores have been passed and enforced for its protection. Their fugitive slaves have been remanded in almost every instance where they have been claimed, and more than once the army and navy of the Federal Government have been used for that purpose. But the States which have commenced this horrid rebellion have lost scarcely any fugitive slaves, while those States which have a right to complain of losses on this score are still loyal to the Union and the Constitution. The John Brown invasion, the only instance of aggressive action from the North upon slavery during the whole history of the Government, was the act of a band of fanatics, for which no considerable portion of the community was in the least responsible, and was suppressed by the Government of the United States itself. In no solitary instance have the rebel States had the slightest reason to complain of oppression or injustice at the hands of the Federal Government."
It is true that at the time of the establishment of the Constitution slavery was regarded as an evil to be abolished, if possible. But the constant tendency of legislation ever since has been to favour the institution. The Slave States have ever since controlled the Federal Government; and even now, but for the absolute refusal of the South to return on any terms to the Union, we should have witnessed another compromise to slavery. On the other hand, secession, far from securing property in slaves, directly endangers it; for a fugitive negro, once across the frontiers which for merly would not have protected him, is now lost to his owner for ever. It is, therefore, not manifest that the evil of slavery will be increased by secession; and to those who hint that the exigencies of the cotton trade will oblige us to connive at the resumption by the South of the importation of negroes from Africa, we reply that our ruined West Indies and our African squadron,
heavy prices that our sincerity has cost us, ought to be our guarantees against such an imputation. As to abolition, we suppose that no intelligent Englishman, nor any intelligent Northern American, would seriously wish to see the four million of negroes in the Slave States at once emancipated. We know by experience that the result to the slaves themselves would not be an advantage-we know that a vast number of proprietors would be ruined, that the cotton trade would be destroyed, and a large part of our own population plunged into misery. Remembering the condition of the African tribes in their own country, as described by so many recent travellers, we cannot believe that even slavery is a bad exchange for such a life of unmitigated savagery. We side neither with those who consider slavery as a paternal and beneficial institution, nor with those who describe it as one succession of horrors. That the white man cannot labour on the southern plantations-that the negro will not unless compelled-that the powers necessary for compulsion are often, when committed to coarse unfeeling men, used for barbarous purposes-that many great moral evils inevitably attend the institution are so many incontrovertible facts which we must lament without knowing how to remedy. Until time shall render possible some amelioration in the condition of the negro, we believe most men who have examined the subject in an other than sentimental spirit would be satisfied with an amount of legislation which would secure him from the exercise of capricious or mercenary barbarity. Meanwhile, we shall consider slavery as a matter to be left out of the question of Secession.
There has been a good deal of argument between the advocates of Union and Secession respecting the spirit of the articles of the Constitution of 1787. On the one hand it is asserted that the Constitution made the States not a confederacy but a
commonwealth; that its framers were delegated, not by the States, but by the people; that as the States had no voice in acceding to the Constitution, so they have no title to withdraw from it. On the other hand it is said that secession is not forbidden in any article of the Constitution; that therefore it may be presumed to be in certain cases legal and consistent with the Constitution; that the States could not be deprived of their inherent sovereignty, howsoever they might consent to surrender some of their privileges to the Federal Government for the common convenience. If the case were being temperately argued in Congress, subject to the decision of a controlling power open to conviction, and able to enforce its decrees, these arguments might be important; but with the disputants separated, armed, and ready to rush together, there is something ludicrous in this grave reference to the terms of a document. It is as if some well-meaning Cockney justice of the peace, on a tour in the Tyrol, had descended from the hills two years ago to read the Riot Act on the plain of Solferino. And, independent of present circumstances, there is something highly inconsistent in the idea of the leaders of a successful rebellion against a parent state meeting to frame a constitution which was to be binding on all posterity. Only a few years had elapsed since some of these very men had, in a still more celebrated document, commenced by asserting the right of revolution; and, in the interval, they had framed another confederation, which they had decreed should be perpetual. It is plain that all governments must finally rest on one of two baseson moral influence, or on material power. A government that is both weak and bad may continue to exist, because the people may, like the French under Louis XV., be too supine, too docile from habit, or too incapable of organisation, to combine to overthrow it. Or a government that is both weak and bad
may continue to exist by appealing to the imagination of the people, either through the personal qualities of the ruler, the associations connected with his dynasty, or in some other way that draws the multitude from the contemplation of their strength and their wrongs. But where the continuance of authority is not thus precarious and accidental, it rests on one of two facts-either that the people see no prospective advantages in revolution sufficient to compensate for its evils, or that the governing power is strong enough to suppress revolt. To base the power of a government on the terms of a document would in any case be absurd, but especially so in the case of the United States, where each State possesses already the machinery for separate existence in full operation, and can superadd in a moment the powers necessary for the full exercise of sovereignty, and has thus a temptation to resort to revolution on far slighter than ordinary provocation. Imagine Hungary in full possession of her diet, her judicature, and her internal government, and the Austrian army reduced to a few brigades; can it be supposed that the fact of the Emperor of Austria being also King of Hungary would for a moment retain her in allegiance? A constitution is to be appealed to, not to enforce, but to define, the functions of government, and its power of self-assertion is not increased by the fact that it emanated from the people. The French Emperor derives his authority from the same source as the American Union; but, if he trusted to the fact of his election alone for the continuance of his power, we imagine that the most enthusiastic Federalist would despair of the Imperial dynasty.
It would be more consistent and more sensible if the contending parties were to place their quarrel on its true grounds, which are amply sufficient to sustain it. The South would then plead that her feelings, her manners, her interests, her aspirations, all are at variance