Atlantic Monthly, Volume 11, Issue 67, May, 1863
Part 5 out of 5
fight, not one of these censuring mouths but would have hissed at us
like an adder with contempt Nay, we ourselves should, as it were, soon
have lost the musical speech and high carriage of men, and fallen to
a proneness and a hissing, degraded in our own eyes even more than in
those of our neighbors. Of course, from this state we should have risen;
but it would have been to see the redness of war on our own fields
and its flames wrapping our own households. We should have risen, but
through a contest to which this war, gigantic though it be, is but a
quarrel of school-boys.
By sheer necessity we began to fight; by the same we must fight It out.
Compromise is, in the nature of the case, impossible. It can mean only
_surrender_. Had there been an inch more of ground for us to yield
without total submission, the war would have been, for the present,
staved off. We turned to bay only when driven back to the vital
principle of our polity and the vital facts of our socialization.
Politically, what was the immediate grievance of the South? Simply that
Northern freemen went to the polls as freemen; simply that they there
expressed, under constitutional forms, their lawful preference. How
can we compromise here, even to the breadth of a hair? How compromise
without stipulating that all Northern electors shall henceforth go to
the polls in charge of an armed police, and there deposit such ballot as
the slave-masters of the Secession States shall direct?
Again, in our social state what is it that gives umbrage to our
antagonists? They have answered the question for us; they have stated it
repeatedly in the plainest English. It is simply the fact that we _are_
free States; that we have, and honor, free labor; that we have schools
for the people; that we teach the duty of each to all and of all to
each; that we respect the human principle, the spiritual possibility,
in man; in fine, that ours is a human socialization, whose fundamental
principles are the venerableness of man's nature and the superiority
of reason and right to any individual will. So far as we are base
bargainers and unbelievers, they can tolerate us, even though they
despise; just where our praise begins, begin their detestation and
It is, by the pointed confession of Southern spokesmen, what we are,
rather than what we have done, which makes them Secessionists; and any
man of sense might, indeed must, see this fact, were the confession
withheld. In action we have conformed to Southern wishes, as if
conformity could not be in excess. We have conformed to an extent
that--to mention nothing of more importance--had nearly ruined us in the
estimation of mankind. One chief reason, indeed, why the sympathy of
Europe did not immediately go with us was that a disgust toward us had
been created by the football passivity, as it seemed abroad, with which
we had submitted to be kicked to and fro. The rebellion was deemed to be
on our side, not on theirs. We, born servitors and underlings, it was
thought, had forgotten our proper places,--nay, had presumed to strike
back, when our masters chastised us. Of course, we should soon be
whipped to our knees again. And when we were again submissive and
abject, Europe must so have demeaned itself as still to be on good terms
with the conquerors. As for us, our final opinion of their demeanor, so
they deemed, mattered very little. The ill opinion of the servants can
be borne; but one must needs be on friendly terms with the master of the
house. The conduct of Europe toward us at the outbreak of this war is
to be thus explained, more than in any other way. According to European
understanding, we had before written ourselves down menials; therefore,
on rising to the attitude of men, we were scorned as upstarts.
The world has now discovered that there was less cowardice and more
comity in this yielding than had been supposed. Yet in candor one must
confess that it was barely not carried to a fatal extent. One step more
in that direction, and we had gone over the brink and into the abyss.
Only when the last test arrived, and we must decide once and forever
whether we would be the champions or the apostates of civilization, did
we show to the foe not the dastard back, but the dauntless front. And
the proposal to "compromise" is simply and exactly a proposal to us to
reverse that decision.
Again, we can propose no compromise, such as would stay the war, without
confessing that there was no occasion for beginning it. And if, indeed,
we began it without occasion, without an occasion absolutely imperative,
then does the whole mountain--weight of its guilt lie on our hearts.
Then in every man that has fallen on either side we are assassins. The
proposal to bring back the seceded States by submission to their demands
is neither more nor less than a proposal to write "Murderer" on the brow
of every soldier in our armies, and "Twice Murderer" over the grave of
every one of our slain. If such submission be due now, not less was
it due before the war began. To say that it was then due, and then
withheld, is, I repeat, merely to brand with the blackness of
assassination the whole patriotic service of the United States, both
civil and military, for the last two years.
If, now, such be, in very deed, our guilt, let us lose no moment in
confessing the fact,--nor afterwards lose a moment in creeping to the
gallows, that must, in that case, be hungering for us. But if no such
guilt be ours, then why should not our courage be as good as our cause?
If not only by the warrant, but by the imperative bidding of Heaven,
we have taken up arms, then why should we not, as under the banner of
Heaven, bear them to the end?
In this course, no _real_ failure can await us. Obeying the necessity
which is laid upon us, and simply conducting ourselves as men of
humanity, courage, and honor, we shall surely vindicate the principles
of civilization and Orderly society, within our own States, whether we
immediately succeed in impressing them on South Carolina and her evil
sisterhood or not. Let us but vindicate their existence on any part of
this continent, and that alone will insure their final prevalence on the
continent as a whole. Let us now but make them inexpugnable, and they
will make themselves universal. This law of necessary prevalence, in a
socialization whose vital principle is reverence for the nature of man,
was clearly seen by the masters, or rather, one should say, by the
subjects, of the slave system; and this war signifies their immediate
purpose to build up between it and themselves a Chinese excluding
wall, and their ulterior purpose to starve and trample it out of this
Finally, just that which teaches us charity toward the slaveholders
teaches us also, forbearing all thought of base and demoralizing
compositions, to press the hand steadily upon the hilt it has grasped,
until war's work is done. These servants of a predaceous principle are
nearly, if not quite, its earliest prey. Enemies to us, they are twice
enemies to themselves. They are driven helplessly on, and will be so
until we slay the tyrant that wrings from them their evil services.
During that fatal month's _siesta_ at Yorktown, the country was
horror-stricken to hear that the enemy were forcing negroes at the point
of the bayonet to work those pieces of ordnance from which the whites,
in terror of our sharpshooters, had fled away. But behind the whites
themselves, behind the whole disloyal South, had long been another
bayonet goading heart and brain, and pricking them on to aggression
after aggression, till aggression found its goal, where we trust it will
find its grave, in civil war. Poor wretches! Who does not pity them? Who
that pities them wisely would not all the more firmly grasp that sword
which alone can deliver them?
Nor has the slave-system been any worse than it must be, in pushing us
and them to the present pass. So bad it must be, or cease to be at all.
All things obey their nature. Hydrophobia will bite, small-pox infect,
plague enter upon life and depart upon death, hyenas scent the new-made
graves, and predaceous systems of society open their mouths ever and
ever for prey. What else _can_ they do? Even would the Secessionists
consent to partial compositions, as they will not, they must inevitably
break faith, as ever before. They are slaves to the slave-system. As
wise were it to covenant with the dust not to fly, or with the sea not
to foam, when the hurricane blows, as to bargain with these that they
shall resist that despotic impetus which compels them. They are slaves.
And their master is one whose law is to devour. Only he who might
meditate letting go a Bengal tiger on its parole of honor, or binding
over a pestilence to keep the peace, should so much as dream for a
moment of civil compositions with this system. Its action is inevitable.
And therefore our only wisdom will be to make our way by the straightest
path to this, which is our chief, and in the last analysis our only
enemy, and cut it through and through. This only will be a final
preservation to ourselves; this only the noblest amity to the South;
this, deliverance to the captivity of two continents, Africa and
America: so that here principle and policy are for once so obviously, as
ever they are really, one and the same, that no man of sense should fail
to perceive their unity.
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