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WHY THEY FOUGHT
Now, when the issue was about to be joined, let it be noted that Secession based itself, in profession and in reality, wholly on the question of slavery. There lay the grievance, and for that alone a remedy was to be had even at the price of sundering the Union. Later, when actual war broke out, other considerations than slavery came into play. To unite and animate the South came the doctrine of State rights, the sympathy of neighborhood, and the primal human impulse of self-defense. But the critical movement, the action which first sundered the Union and so led to war,—was inspired wholly and solely by the defense and maintenance of slavery. The proposition is almost too plain for argument. But it receives illustration from the great debate in the Georgia Legislature, when Toombs advocated Secession and Stephens opposed it. Toombs, evidently unwilling to rest the case wholly on slavery, alleged three other grievances at the hands of the North—the fishery bounties, the navigation laws, and the protective tariff. Stephens easily brushed aside the bounties and navigation laws as bygone or unimportant. As to the tariff, he showed that the last tariff law, enacted in 1857, was supported by every Massachusetts member of Congress and every Georgia member, including Toombs himself. What further he said belongs to a later chapter. But he was unquestionably right, and all rational history confirms it, that the one force impelling the South to Secession was the imperilled interest of slavery.
But the resistance which Secession encountered from the North was from the outset other and wider than hostility to slavery. Anti-slavery feeling was indeed strong in the Northern heart; the restriction of slavery was the supreme principle of the Republican party; the resentment that the national bond should be menaced in the interest of slavery gave force to the opposition which Secession instantly aroused. But, on the one hand, the extreme opponents of slavery, Garrison and his followers, were now, as they had always been, willing and more than willing that the South should go off and take slavery with it. And on the other hand, the anti-secessionists of the nation included a multitude, North and South, who were either friendly to slavery or indifferent to it. Even of the Republican party the mass were more concerned for the rights of the white man than of the black man. They were impatient of the dominance of the government by the South, and meant to unseat the Southern oligarchy from the place of power at Washington.
They intended that the territories should be kept for the free immigrant, who should not be degraded by slaves at work in the next field. Only a minority of the party, though a minority likely in the long run to lead it-looked with hope and purpose to ultimate emancipation. And when the question of Secession was at issue by the people's votes and voice, and had not yet come to the clash of arms, the rights and interests of the slave fell into the background. The supreme question of the time was felt to be the unity or the division of the nation.
The Secessionists' plea was in two clauses; that their States were aggrieved by Northern action, and that they had a legal right to leave the Union without let or hindrance. A double answer met them, from their fellowSoutherners that it was impolitic to secede, and from the
North that secession was illegal, unpermissible, and to be resisted at all costs.
The Secessionists were fluent in argument that the framers of the Constitution intended only a partnership of States, dissoluble by any at will. However difficult to prove that the original builders purposed only such a temporary edifice, there was at least ground for maintaining that they gave no authority for coercing a State into obedience or submission, and indeed rejected a proposal to give such authority. If there were no legal or rightful authority to keep a State in the Union by force, then for all practical purposes its right to go out of the Union was established. But against that right, as ever contemplated by the fathers, or allowable under the Constitution, there was strong contention on legal and historic grounds.
But deeper than all forensic or academic controversy was the substantial and tremendous fact, that the American people had grown into a nation, organic and vital. That unity was felt in millions of breasts, cherished by countless firesides, recognized among the peoples of the earth.
There had developed that mysterious and mighty sentiment, the love of country. It rested in part on the recognition of material benefits. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Lakes to the Gulf, the tides of commerce flowed free, unvexed by a single custom-house. The Mississippi with its traffic united the Northern prairies and the Louisiana delta like a great artery. Safety to person and property under the laws, protection by an authority strong enough to curb riot or faction at home, and with a shielding arm that reached wherever an American traveler might wander,—these benefits rooted patriotism deep in the soil of homely usefulness. And the tree branched and blossomed in the upper air of generous feeling. Man's sympathy expands in widening spheres, and his being enlarges
as he comes into vital union, first with wife and children, then successively with neighborhood, community, country, and at last with humanity. The Russian peasant, in his ignorance and poverty, or facing the foe in war, is sublimated by his devotion to the White Czar and Holy Russia. Still more inspiring and profound is the patriotism of a citizen whose nation is founded on equal brotherhood. Deeper than analysis can probe is this passion of patriotism. Gladstone characterized it well, when, writing in August, 1861, he recognized among the motives sustaining the Union cause, “last and best of all, the strong instinct of national life, and the abhorrence of Nature itself toward all severance of an organized body.”
This sentiment, though strained and weakened in the South, was still powerful even in that section. This was especially true of the border States, where slavery was of less account than in the Gulf and Cotton States. The spirit of Clay was still strong in Kentucky, and was represented by the venerable John J. Crittenden in the Senate. Of a like temper was John Bell of Tennessee, Presidential candidate of the Union and Constitutional party in 1860. From the same State Andrew Johnson, in the Senate, stood for the sturdy and fierce Unionism of the white laboring class. Virginia was strongly bound to the Union by her great historical traditions. North Carolina, Missouri, and Arkansas were, until the war broke out, attached to the Union rather than the Southern cause. It was in the belt of States from South Carolina to Texas, in which the planter class was altogether dominant, that the interest of slavery, and the pride of class and of State, had gradually loosened the bonds of affection and allegiance to the national idea. Calhoun himself had been an ardent lover of the Union. The clash between the national and sectional interests had been to him a tragedy. Nullification was his device for perpetuating
the Union while allowing its members relief from possible oppression,-but nullification had failed, in fact as in logic.
Now the Secessionists went further than Calhoun had ever found occasion to go. They proposed to break up the nation, at first by the withdrawal of their separate States, to be followed by the organization of a Southern Confederacy. Their grievance was the restriction of their industrial system, and its threatened destruction, and the failure of the Union to serve its proper ends of justice and fraternity. But they wholly disclaimed any revolutionary action. They maintained that the withdrawal of their States was an exercise of their strictly legal and constitutional right. This is the plea which is insistently and strenuously urged by their defenders. Their foremost actors in the drama, Davis and Stephens, became at a later day its historians, not so much to record its events, as to plead with elaboration and reiteration that Secession was a constitutional right. But all their fine-spun reasoning ran dead against a force which it could no more overcome than King Canute's words could halt the tide,—the fact of American unity, as realized in the hearts of the American people.
The mass of men live not by logic, but by primal instincts and passions. Where one man could explain why the nation was an indestructible organism rather than a partnership dissoluble at will, a thousand men could and would fight to prevent the nation from being dissolved. But here and there on this planet is a man who must think things through to the end, and have a solid reason for what he does. Such a man was Abraham Lincoln. He never could rest contented till he had worked the problem out clearly in his own head, and then had stated the answer in words that the common man could understand. Such an answer to the whole Secessionist argument, quite apart from the slavery question, he gave in one brief paragraph of his