« AnteriorContinuar »
to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot. But Anderson remained without reinforcements further provisions when Lincoln entered office; and troops in the service first of South Carolina and afterwards of the Southern Confederacy, which was formed in February, erected batteries and prepared to bombard Fort Sumter.
No possible plea for President Buchanan can make him rank among those who have held high office with any credit at all, but he must at once be acquitted of any intentional treachery to the Union. It is agreed that he was a truthful and sincere man, and there is something pleasant in the simple avowal he made to a Southern negotiator who was pressing him for some instant concession, that he always said his prayers before deciding any important matter of State. His previous dealings with Kansas would suggest to us robust unscrupulousness, but it seems that he had quite given his judgment over into the keeping of a little group of Southern Senators. Now that he was deprived of this help, he had only enough will left to be obstinate against other advice. It is suggested that he had now but one motive, the desire that the struggle should break out in his successor's time rather than his own. Even this is perhaps to judge Buchanan's notorious and calamitous laches unfairly. Any action that he took must to a certain extent have been provocative, and he knew it, and he may have clung to the hope that by sheer inaction he would give time for some possible forces of reason and conciliation to work. If so, he was wrong, but similar and about as foolish hopes paralysed Lincoln's Cabinet (and to a less but still very dangerous degree Lincoln himself) when they took up the problem which Buchanan's neglect had made more urgent. Buchanan had in this instance the advantage of far better advice, but this silly old man must not be gibbeted and Lincoln left free from criticism for his part in the same transaction. Both Presidents hesitated where to us who look back the case seems clear. The circumstances had altered in some respects when
Lincoln came in, but it is only upon a somewhat broad survey of the governing tendencies of Lincoln's administration and of its mighty result in the mass that we discover what really distinguishes his slowness of action in such cases as this from the hesitation of a man like Buchanan. Buchanan waited in the hope of avoiding action, Lincoln with the firm intention to see his path in the fullest light he could get.
From an early date in November, 1860, every effort was made, by men too numerous to mention, to devise if possible such a settlement of what were now called the grievances of the South as would prevent any other State from following the example of South Carolina. Apart from the intangible difference presented by much disapprobation of slavery in the North and growing resentment in the South as this disapprobation grew louder, the solid ground of dispute concerned the position of slavery in the existing Territories and future acquisitions of the United States Government; the quarrel arose from the election of a President pledged to use whatever power he had, though indeed that might prove little, to prevent the further extension of slavery; and we may almost confine our attention to this point. Other points came into discussion. Several of the Northern States had “Personal Liberty Laws " expressly devised to impede the execution of the Federal law of 1850 as to fugitive slaves. Some attention was devoted to these, especially by Alexander Stephens, who, as the Southern leader most opposed to immediate secession, wished to direct men's minds to a grievance that could be remedied. Lincoln, who had always said that, though the Fugitive Slave Law should be made just and seemly, it ought in substance to be enforced, made clear again that he thought such “Personal Liberty Laws” should be amended, though he protested that it was not for him as President-elect to advise the State Legislatures on their own business. The Republicans generally agreed. Some of the States concerned actually began amending their laws. Thus, if the disquiet of the South had depended on this grievance, the
this, save indeed as to the peculiar case of New Mexico, which did not matter, and which perhaps he regarded as conceded already, the Southern policy of extending slavery and of "filibustering" against neighbouring counties for that purpose would revive in full force, and the whole labour of the Republican movement would have to begin over again. Since his election he had been writing also to Southern politicians who were personally friendly, to Gilmer of North Carolina, to whom he offered Cabinet office, and to Stephens, making absolutely plain that his difference with them lay in this one point, but making it no less plain that on this point he was, with entire respect to them, immovable. Now, on December 22, the New York Tribune was "enabled to state that Mr. Lincoln stands now as he stood in May last, square upon the Republican platform." The writing that Weed brought to Seward must have said, perhaps more elaborately, the same. If Lincoln had not stood square upon that platform there were others like Senator Wade of Ohio and Senator Grimes of Iowa who might have done so and might have been able to wreck the compromise. Lincoln, however, did wreck it, at a time when it seemed likely to succeed, and it is most probable that thereby he caused the Civil War. It cannot be said that he definitely expected the Civil War. Probably he avoided making any definite forecast; but he expressed no alarm, and he privately told a friend about this time that "he could not in his heart believe that the South designed the overthrow of the Government.” But, if he had in his heart believed it, nothing in his life gives reason to think that he would have been more anxious to conciliate the South; on the contrary, it is in line with all we know of his feelings to suppose that he would have thought firmness all the more imperative. We cannot recall the solemnity of his long-considered speech about “a house divided against itself,” with which all his words and acts accorded, without seeing that, if perhaps he speculated little about the risks, he was prepared to face them whatever they were. Doubtless he took a heavy responsibility, but
it is painful to find honourable historians, who heartily dislike the cause of slavery, capable to-day of wondering whether he was right to do so. “If he had not stood square in December upon the same "platform " on which he had stood in May, if he had preferred to enroll himself among those statesmen of all countries whose strongest words are uttered for their own subsequent enjoyment in eating them, he might conceivably have saved much bloodshed, but he would not have left the United States a country of which any good man was proud to be a citizen.
Thus, by the end of 1860, the bottom was really out' of the policy of compromise, and it is not worth while to, examine the praiseworthy efforts that were still made for it while State after State in the South was deciding to secede. One interesting proposal, which was aired in January, 1861, deserves notice, namely, that the terms of compromise proposed by Crittenden should have been submitted to a vote of the whole people. It was not passed. Seward, whom many people now thought likely to catch at any and every proposal for a settlement, said afterwards with justice that it was “unconstitutional and ineffectual." Ineffectual it would have been in this sense: the compromise would in all probability have been carried by a majority consisting of men in the border States and of all those elsewhere who, though they feared war and desired good feeling, had no further definite opinion upon the chief questions at issue; but it would have left a local majority in many of the Southern States and a local majority in many of the Northern States as irreconcilable with each other as ever. It was opposed also to the spirit of the Constitution. In a great country where the people with infinitely varied interests and opinions can slowly make their predominant wishes appear, but cannot really take counsel together and give a firm decision upon any emergency, there may be exceptional cases when a popular vote on a defined issue would be valuable, significant, desired by the people themselves; but the machinery of representative government, however faulty,
cause of disquiet would no doubt have been removed. Again the Republican leaders, including Lincoln in particular, let there be no ground for thinking that an attack was intended upon slavery in the States where it was established; they offered eventually to give the most solemn pledge possible in this matter by passing an Amendment of the Constitution declaring that it should never be altered so as to take away the independence of the existing slave States as to this portion of their democratic institutions. Lincoln indeed refused on several occasions to make any fresh public disclaimer of an intention to attack existing institutions. His views were “open to all who will read." “ For the good men in the South,” he writes privately, “-I regard the majority of hem as such— I have no objection to repeat them seventy times seven. But I have bad men to deal with both North and South; men who are eager for something new upon which to base new misrepresentations; men who would like to frighten me, or at least fix upon me the character of timidity and cowardice.” Nevertheless he endeavoured constantly in private correspondence to narrow and define the issue, which, as he insisted, concerned only the territorial extension of slavery.
The most serious of the negotiations that took place, and to which most hope was attached, consisted in the deliberations of a committee of thirteen appointed by the Senate in December, 1860, which took for its guidance a detailed scheme of compromise put forward by Senator Crittenden, of Kentucky. The efforts of this committee to come to an agreement broke down at the outset upon the question of the Territories, and the responsibility, for good or for evil, of bringing them to an end must probably be attributed to the advice of Lincoln. Crittenden's first proposal was that there should be a Constitutional Amendment declaring that slavery should be prohibited“ in all the territory of the United States, now held or hereafter acquired, north of latitude 36° 30'”. (the limit fixed in the Missouri Compromise, but restricted then to the Louisiana purchase)—while in all