Story type: Essay
The late Philadelphia experiment at making a party out of nullities reminds us of nothing so much as of the Irishman’s undertaking to produce a very palatable soup out of no more costly material than a pebble. Of course he was to be furnished with a kettle as his field of operations, and after that he asked only for just the least bit of beef in the world to give his culinary miracle a flavor, and a pinch of salt by way of relish. As nothing could be more hollow and empty than the pretence on which the new movement was founded, nothing more coppery than the material out of which it was mainly composed, we need look no further for the likeness of a kettle wherewith to justify our comparison; as for the stone, nothing could be more like that than the Northern disunion faction, which was to be the chief ingredient in the newfangled pottage, and whose leading characteristic for the last five years has been a uniform alacrity in going under; the offices in the gift of the President might very well be reckoned on to supply the beef which should lead by their noses the weary expectants whose hunger might be too strong for their nicety of stomach; and the pinch of salt,–why could not that be found in the handful of Republicans who might be drawn over by love of notoriety, private disgusts, or that mixture of motives which has none of the substance of opinion, much less of the tenacity of principle, but which is largely operative in the action of illogical minds? But the people? Would they be likely to have their appetite aroused by the fumes of this thin decoction? Where a Chinaman is cook, one is apt to be a little suspicious; and if the Address in which the Convention advertised their ingenious mess had not a little in its verbiage to remind one of the flowery kingdom, there was something in that part of the assemblage which could claim any bygone merit of Republicanism calculated to stimulate rather than to allay any dreadful surmise of the sagacious rodent which our antipodes are said to find savory. And as for the people, it is a curious fact, that the party which has always been loudest to profess its faith in their capacity of self-government has been the last to conceive it possible that they should apprehend a principle, arrive at a logical conclusion, or be influenced by any other than a mean motive. The cordons bleus of the political cooks at Philadelphia were men admirably adapted for the petty intrigues of a local caucus, but by defect of nature profoundly unconscious of that simple process of generalization from a few plain premises by which the popular mind is guided in times like these, and upon questions which appeal to the moral instincts of men.
The Convention was well managed, we freely admit,–and why not, when all those who were allowed to have any leading part in it belonged exclusively to that class of men who are known as party managers, and who, like the director of a theatre or a circus, look upon the mass of mankind as creatures to be influenced by a taking title, by amplitude of posters, and by a thrilling sensation or two, no matter how coarse? As for the title, nothing could be better than that of the “Devoted Unionists,”–and were not the actors, no less than the scenery and decorations, for the most part entirely new,–at least in that particular play? Advertisement they did not lack, with the whole Democratic press and the Department of State at their service, not to speak of the real clown being allowed to exhibit himself at short intervals upon the highest platform in this or any other country. And if we ask for sensation, never were so many performers exhibited together in their grand act of riding two horses at once, or leaping through a hoop with nothing more substantial to resist them than the tissue-paper of former professions, nay, of recent pledges. And yet the skill of the managers had something greater still behind, in Massachusetts linked arm in arm with South Carolina. To be sure, a thoughtful mind might find something like a false syllogism in pairing off a Commonwealth whose greatest sin it has been to lead the van in freedom of opinion, and in those public methods of enlightenment which make it a safeguard of popular government, with an Oligarchy whose leadership has been in precisely the opposite direction, as if both had equally sinned against American ideas. But such incongruities are trifles no greater than those of costume so common on every stage; and perhaps the only person to be pitied in the exhibition was Governor Orr, who had once uttered a hope that his own State might one day walk abreast with the daughter of Puritan forethought in the nobler procession of prosperous industry, and who must have felt a slight shock of surprise, if nothing more, at the form in which Massachusetts had chosen to incarnate herself on that particular occasion. We cannot congratulate the Convention on the name of its chairman, for there is something ominously suggestive in it. But, on the other hand it is to be remembered that Mr. Doolittle has a remarkably powerful voice, which is certainly one element in the manufacture of sound opinions. A little too much latitude was allowed to Mr. Raymond in the Address, though on the whole perhaps it was prudent to make that document so long as to insure it against being read. In their treatment of Mr. Vallandigham the managers were prudent. He was allowed to appear just enough not quite to alienate his party, on whom the new movement counts largely for support, and just not enough to compromise the Convention with the new recruits it had made among those who would follow the name Conservative into anything short of downright anarchy. The Convention, it must be confessed, had a rather hard problem to solve,–nothing less than to make their patent reconciliation cement out of fire and gunpowder, both useful things in themselves, but liable in concert to bring about some odd results in the way of harmonious action. It is generally thought wiser to keep them apart, and accordingly Mr. Vallandigham was excluded from the Convention altogether, and the Southern delegates were not allowed any share in the Address or Resolutions. Indeed, as the Northern members were there to see what they could make, and the Southern to find out how much they could save, and whatever could be made or saved was to come out of the North, it was more prudent to leave all matters of policy in the hands of those who were supposed to understand best the weak side of the intended victim. The South was really playing the game, and is to have the lion’s share of the winnings; but it is only as a disinterested bystander, who looks over the cards of one of the parties, and guides his confederate by hints so adroitly managed as not to alarm the pigeon. The Convention avoided the reef where the wreck of the Chicago lies bleaching; but we are not so sure that they did not ground themselves fast upon the equally dangerous mud-bank that lies on the opposite side of the honest channel. At Chicago they were so precisely frank as to arouse indignation; at Philadelphia they are so careful of generalities that they make us doubtful, if not suspicious. Does the expectation or even the mere hope of pudding make the utterance as thick as if the mouth were already full of it? As to the greater part of the Resolutions, they were political truisms in which everybody would agree as so harmless that the Convention might almost as well have resolved the multiplication table article by article. The Address was far less explicit; and where there is so very much meal, it is perhaps not altogether uncharitable to suspect that there may be something under it. There is surely a suspicious bulge here and there, that has the look of the old Democratic cat. But, after all, of what consequence are the principles of the party, when President Johnson covers them all when he puts on his hat, and may change them between dinner and tea, as he has done several times already? The real principle of the party, its seminal and vital principle alike, is the power of the President, and its poli
cy is every moment at the mercy of his discretion. That power has too often been the plaything of whim, and that discretion the victim of ill-temper or vanity, for us to have any other feeling left than regret for the one and distrust of the other.
The new party does not seem to have drawn to itself any great accession of strength from the Republican side, or indeed to have made many converts that were not already theirs in fact, though not in name. It was joined, of course, at once by the little platoon of gentlemen calling themselves, for some mystical reason, Conservatives, who have for some time been acting with the Democratic faction, carefully keeping their handkerchiefs to their noses all the while. But these involuntary Catos are sure, as if by instinct, to choose that side which is doomed not to please the gods, and their adhesion is as good as a warranty of defeat. During the President’s progress they must often have been driven to their handkerchiefs again. It was a great blunder of Mr. Seward to allow him to assume the apostolate of the new creed in person, for every word he has uttered must have convinced many, even of those unwilling to make the admission, that a doctrine could hardly be sound which had its origin and derives its power from a source so impure. For so much of Mr. Johnson’s harangues as is not positively shocking, we know of no parallel so close as in his Imperial Majesty Kobes I.:–
“Er ruehmte dass er nie studirt
Und Reden sprachi aus sich selbst heraus,
Ganz ohne Facultaeten.”
And when we consider his power of tears; when we remember Mr. Reverdy Johnson and Mr. Andrew Johnson confronting each other like two augurs, the one trying not to laugh while he saw the other trying to cry; when we recall the touching scene at Canandaigua, where the President was overpowered by hearing the pathetic announcement that Stephen A. Douglas had for two years attended the academy in what will doubtless henceforward be dubbed that “classic locality,” we cannot help thinking of
“In seinem schoenen Auge glaenzt
Die Thraene, die Stereotype.”
Indeed, if the exhibition of himself were not so profoundly sad, when we think of the high place he occupies and the great man he succeeded in it, nothing could well be so comic as some of the incidents of Mr. Johnson’s tour. No satirist could have conceived anything so bewitchingly absurd as the cheers which greeted the name of Simeon at the dinner in New York, whether we suppose the audience to have thought him some eminent member of their party of whom they had never heard, or whom they had forgotten as thoroughly as they had Mr. Douglas, or if we consider that they were involuntarily giving vent to their delight at the pleasing prospect opened by their “illustrious guest’s” allusion to his speedy departure. Nor could anything have been imagined beforehand so ludicrously ominous as Mr. Seward’s fears lest the platform should break down under them at Niagara. They were groundless fears, it is true, for the Johnson platform gave way irreparably on the 22d of February; but they at least luckily prevented Nicholas Bottom Cromwell from uttering his after-dinner threat against the people’s immediate representatives, against the very body whose vote supplies the funds of his party, and whose money, it seems, is constitutional, even if its own existence as a Congress be not. We pity Mr. Seward in his new office of bear-leader. How he must hate his Bruin when it turns out that his tricks do not even please the crowd!
But the ostensible object of this indecent orgy seems to us almost as discreditable as the purpose it veiled so thinly. Who was Stephen A. Douglas, that the President, with his Cabinet and the two highest officers of the army and navy, should add their official dignity to the raising of his monument, and make the whole country an accomplice in consecrating his memory? His name is not associated with a single measure of national importance, unless upon the wrong side. So far was he from being a statesman that, even on the lower ground of politics, both his principles and his expression of them were tainted with the reek of vulgar associations. A man of naturally great abilities he certainly was, but wholly without that instinct for the higher atmosphere of thought or ethics which alone makes them of value to any but their possessor, and without which they are more often dangerous than serviceable to the commonwealth. He habitually courted those weaknesses in the people which tend to degrade them into a populace, instead of appealing to the virtues that grow by use, and whose mere acknowledgment in a man in some sort ennobles him. And by doing this he proved that he despised the very masses whose sweet breaths he wooed, and had no faith in the system under which alone such a one as he could have been able to climb so high. He never deserted the South to take side with the country till the South had both betrayed and deserted him. If such a man were the fairest outcome of Democracy, then is it indeed a wretched failure. But for the factitious importance given to his name by the necessity of furnishing the President with a pretext for stumping the West in the interest of Congress, Mr. Douglas would be wellnigh as utterly forgotten as Cass or Tyler, or Buchanan or Fillmore; nor should we have alluded to him now but that the recent pilgrimage has made his name once more public property, and because we think it a common misfortune when such men are made into saints, though for any one’s advantage but their own. We certainly have no wish to play the part of advocatus diaboli on such an occasion, even were it necessary at a canonization where the office of Pontifex Maximus is so appropriately filled by Mr. Johnson.
In speaking of the late unhappy exposure of the unseemly side of democratic institutions, we have been far from desirous of insisting on Mr. Seward’s share in it. We endeavored to account for it at first by supposing that the Secretary of State, seeing into the hands of how vain and weak a man the reins of administration had fallen, was willing, by flattering his vanity, to control his weakness for the public good. But we are forced against our will to give up any such theory, and to confess that Mr. Seward’s nature has been “subdued to what it works in.” We see it with sincere sorrow, and are far from adding our voice to the popular outcry against a man the long and honorable services of whose prime we are not willing to forget in the decline of his abilities and that dry-rot of the mind’s nobler temper which so often results from the possession of power. Long contact with the meaner qualities of men, to whose infection place and patronage are so unhappily exposed, could not fail of forcing to a disproportionate growth any germs of that cynicism always latent in temperaments so exclusively intellectual and unmitigated by any kindly lenitive of humor. Timid by nature, the war which he had prophesied, but had not foreseen, and which invigorated bolder men, unbraced him; and while the spendthrift verbosity of his despatches was the nightmare of foreign ministries, his uncertain and temporizing counsels were the perpetual discouragement of his party at home. More than any minister with whose official correspondence we are acquainted, he carried the principle of paper money into diplomacy, and bewildered Earl Russell and M. Drouyn de Lhuys with a horrible doubt as to the real value of the verbal currency they were obliged to receive. But, unfortunately, his own countrymen were also unprovided with a price-current of the latest quotation in phrases, and the same gift of groping and inconclusive generalities which perhaps was useful as a bewilderment to would-be hostile governments abroad was often equally effective in disheartening the defenders of nationality at home. We cannot join with those who accuse Mr. Seward of betraying his party, for we think ourselves justified by recent events in believing that he has always looked upon parties as the mere ladders of ambitious men; and when his own broke under him at Chicago in 1860, he forthwith began to cast about for another, the rounds of which might be firmer under his feet. He is not the first, and we fear will not be the last, of our public men who have thought to climb into the White House by a back window, and have come ignominiously to the ground in attempting it. Mr. Seward’s view of the matter probably is that the Republican party deserted him six years ago, and that he was thus absolved of all obligations to it. But might there not have been such a thing as fidelity to its principles? Or was Mr. Seward drawn insensibly into the acceptance of them by the drift of political necessity, and did he take them up as if they were but the hand that had been dealt him in the game, not from any conviction of their moral permanence and power, perhaps with no perception of it, but from a mere intellectual persuasion of the use that might be made of them politically and for the nonce by a skilful gamester? We should be very unwilling to admit such a theory of his character; but surely what we have just seen would seem to justify it, for we can hardly conceive that any one should suddenly descend from real statesmanship to the use of such catch-rabble devices as those with which he has lately disgusted the country. A small politician cannot be made out of a great statesman, for there is an oppugnancy of nature between the two things, and we may fairly suspect the former winnings of a man who has been once caught with loaded dice in his pocket. However firm may be Mr. Seward’s faith in the new doctrine of Johnsonian infallibility, surely he need not have made himself a partner in its vulgarity. And yet he has attempted to vie with the Jack-pudding tricks of the unrivalled performer whose man-of-business he is, in attempting a populacity (we must coin a new word for a new thing) for which he was exquisitely unfitted. What more stiffly awkward than his essays at easy familiarity? What more painfully remote from drollery than his efforts to be droll? In the case of a man who descends so far as Mr. Seward, such feats can be characterized by no other word so aptly as by tumbling. The thing would be sad enough in any prominent man, but in him it becomes a public shame, for in the eyes of the world it is the nation that tumbles in its Prime Minister. The Secretary of State’s place may be dependent on the President, but the dignity of it belongs to the country, and neither of them has any right to trifle with it. Mr. Seward might stand on his head in front of what Jenkins calls his “park gate,” at Auburn, and we should be the last to question his perfect right as a private citizen to amuse himself in his own way, but in a great officer of the government such pranks are no longer harmless. They are a national scandal, and not merely so, but a national detriment, inasmuch as they serve to foster in foreign statesman a profound misapprehension of the American people and of the motives which influence them in questions of public policy. Never was so great a wrong done to democracy, nor so great an insult offered to it, as in this professional circuit of the presidential Punch and his ministerial showman.
Fortunately, the exhibitions of this unlucky pair, and their passing round the hat without catching even the greasy pence they courted, have very little to do with the great question to be decided at the next elections, except in so far as we may be justified in suspecting their purity of motive who could consent to such impurity of means, and the soundness of their judgment in great things who in small ones show such want of sagacity. The crowds they have drawn are no index of popular approval. We remember seeing the prodigious nose of Mr. Tyler (for the person behind it had been added by nature merely as the handle to so fine a hatchet) drawn by six white horses through the streets, and followed by an eager multitude, nine tenths of whom thought the man belonging to it a traitor to the party which had chosen him. But then the effigy at least of a grandiose, if not a great man, sat beside him, and the display was saved from contempt by the massive shape of Webster, beneath which he showed like a swallow against a thunder-cloud. Even Mr. Fillmore, to whom the Fugitive Slave Law denies the complete boon of an otherwise justly earned oblivion, had some dignity given to his administration by the presence of Everett. But in this late advertising-tour of a policy in want of a party, Cleon and Agoracritus seem to have joined partnership, and the manners of the man match those of the master. Mr. Johnson cannot so much as hope for the success in escaping memory achieved by the last of those small Virginians whom the traditionary fame of a State once fertile in statesmen lifted to four years of imperial pillory, where his own littleness seemed to heighten rather than lower the grandeur of his station; his name will not be associated with the accomplishment of a great wrong against humanity, let us hope not with the futile attempt at one; but he will be indignantly remembered as the first, and we trust the last, of our chief magistrates who believed in the brutality of the people, and gave to the White House the ill-savor of a corner-grocery. He a tribune of the people? A lord of misrule, an abbot of unreason, much rather!
No one can object more strongly than we to the mixing of politics with personal character; but they are here inextricably entangled together, and we hold it to be the duty of every journal in the country to join in condemning a spectacle which silence might seem to justify as a common event in our politics. We turn gladly from the vulgarity of the President and his minister to consider the force of their arguments. Mr. Johnson seems to claim that he has not betrayed the trust to which he was elected, mainly because the Union party have always affirmed that the rebellious States could not secede, and therefore ex vi termini are still in the Union. The corollary drawn from this is, that they have therefore a manifest right to immediate representation in Congress. What we have always understood the Union party as meaning to affirm was, that a State had no right to secede; and it was upon that question, which is a very different thing from the other, that the whole controversy hinged. To assert that a State or States could not secede, if they were strong enough, would be an absurdity. In point of fact, all but three of the Slave States did secede, and for four years it would have been treason throughout their whole territory, and death on the nearest tree, to assert the contrary. The law forbids a man to steal, but he may steal, nevertheless; and then, if he had Mr. Johnson’s power as a logician, he might claim to escape all penalty by pleading that when the law said should not it meant could not, and therefore he had not. If a four years’ war, if a half million lives, and if a debt which is counted by the thousand million are not satisfactory proofs that somebody did contrive to secede practically, whatever the theoretic right may have been, then nothing that ought not to be done ever has been done. We do not, however, consider the question as to whether the Rebel States were constitutionally, or in the opinion of any political organization, out of the Union or not as of the least practical importance; for we have never known an instance in which any party has retreated into the thickets and swamps of constitutional interpretation, where it had the least chance of maintaining its ground in the open field of common sense or against the pressure of popular will. The practical fact is, that the will of the majority, or the national necessity for the time being, has always been constitutional; which is only as much as to say that the Convention of 1787 was not wholly made up of inspired prophets, who could provide beforehand for every possible contingency. The doctrine of a strict and even pettifogging interpretation of the Constitution had its rise among men who looked upon that instrument as a treaty, and at a time when the conception of a national power which should receive that of the States into its stream as tributary was something which had entered the head of only here and there a dreamer. The theorists of the Virginia school would have dammed up and diverted the force of each State into a narrow channel of its own, with its little saw-mill and its little grist-mill for local needs, instead of letting it follow the slopes of the continental water-shed to swell the volume of one great current ample for the larger uses and needful for the higher civilization of all. That there should always be a school who interpret the Constitution by its letter is a good thing, as interposing a check to hasty or partial action, and gaining time for ample discussion; but that in the end we should be governed by its spirit, living and operative in the energies of an advancing people, is a still better thing; since the levels and shore-lines of politics are no more stationary than those of continents, and the ship of state would in time be left aground far inland, to long in vain for that open sea which is the only pathway to fortune and to glory.
Equally idle with the claim that the Union party is foreclosed from now dealing with the Rebel States as seceded, because four years ago it declared that they had no right to secede, is the assertion that the object of the war was proclaimed to be for the restoration of the Union and the Constitution as they were. Even were we to admit that 1861 is the same thing as 1866, the question comes back again to precisely the point that is at issue between the President and Congress, namely, What is the wisest way of restoring the Union? for which both profess themselves equally anxious. As for the Constitution, we cannot have that as it was, but only as its framers hoped it would be, with its one weak and wicked element excluded. But as to Union, are we in favor of a Union in form or in fact? of a Union on the map and in our national style merely, or one of ideas, interests, and aspirations? If we cannot have the latter, the former is a delusion and a snare; and the strength of the nation would be continually called away from prosperous toil to be wasted in holding a wolf by the ears, which would still be a wolf, and known by all our enemies for such, though we called heaven and earth to witness, in no matter how many messages or resolves, that the innocent creature was a lamb. That somebody has a right to dictate some kind of terms is admitted by Mr. Johnson’s own repeated action in the matter; but who that somebody should be, whether a single man, of whose discretion even his own partisans are daily becoming more doubtful, or the immediate representatives of that large majority of the States and of the people who for the last five years have been forced against their will to represent and to be the United States, is certainly too grave an affair to be settled by that single man himself.
We have seen to what extremes the party calling itself Conservative has hinted its willingness to go, under the plea of restored Union, but with the object of regained power. At Philadelphia, they went as far as they publicly dared in insinuating that the South would be justified in another rebellion, and their journals have more than once prompted the President to violent measures, which would as certainly be his ruin as they would lead to incalculable public disaster. The President himself has openly announced something like a design of forcibly suppressing a Congress elected by the same votes and secured by the same guaranties that elected him to his place and secure him in it,–a Congress whose validity he has acknowledged by sending in his messages to it, by signing its bills, and by drawing his pay under its vote; and yet thinking men are not to be allowed to doubt the propriety of leaving the gravest measure that ever yet came up for settlement by the country to a party and a man so reckless as these have shown themselves to be. Mr. Johnson talks of the danger of centralization, and repeats the old despotic fallacy of many tyrants being worse than one,–a fallacy originally invented, and ever since repeated, as a slur upon democracy, but which is a palpable absurdity when the people who are to be tyrannized over have the right of displacing their tyrants every two years. The true many-headed tyrant is the Mob, that part of the deliberative body of a nation which Mr. Johnson, with his Southern notions of popular government, has been vainly seeking, that he might pay court to it, from the seaboard to St. Louis, but which hardly exists, we are thankful to say, as a constituent body, in any part of the Northern States outside the city of New York.
Mr. Seward, with that playfulness which sits upon him so gracefully, and which draws its resources from a reading so extensive that not even John Gilpin has escaped its research, puts his argument to the people in a form where the Socratic and arithmetic methods are neatly combined, and asks, “How many States are there in the Union?” He himself answers his own question for an audience among whom it might have been difficult to find any political adherent capable of so arduous a solution, by asking another, “Thirty-six?” Then he goes on to say that there is a certain party which insists that the number shall be less by ten, and ends by the clincher, “Now how many stars do you wish to see in your flag?” The result of some of Mr. Johnson’s harangues was so often a personal collision, in which the more ardent on both sides had an opportunity to see any number of new constellations, that this astronomical view of the case must have struck the audience rather by its pertinence than its novelty. But in the argument of the Secretary, as in that of the President, there is a manifest confusion of logic, and something very like a petitio principii. We might answer Mr. Seward’s question with, “As many fixed stars as you please, but no more shooting stars with any consent of ours.” But really this matter is of more interest to heralds of arms than to practical men. The difference between Congress and the President is not, as Mr. Seward would insinuate, that Congress or anybody else wishes to keep the ten States out, but that the Radical party (we cheerfully accept our share in the opprobrium of the name) insists that they shall come in on a footing of perfect equality with the rest; while the President would reward them for rebellion by giving them an additional weight of nearly one half in the national councils. The cry of “Taxation without representation” is foolish enough as raised by the Philadelphia Convention, for do we not tax every foreigner that comes to us while he is in process of becoming a citizen and a voter? But under the Johnsonian theory of reconstruction, we shall leave a population which is now four millions not only taxed without representation, but doomed to be so forever without any reasonable hope of relief. The true point is not as to the abstract merits of universal suffrage (though we believe it the only way toward an enlightened democracy and the only safeguard of popular government), but as to whether we shall leave the freedmen without the only adequate means of self-defence. And however it may be now, the twenty-six States certainly were the Union when they accepted the aid of these people and pledged the faith of the government to their protection. Jamaica, at the end of nearly thirty years since emancipation, shows us how competent former masters are to accomplish the elevation of their liberated slaves, even though their own interests would prompt them to it. Surely it is a strange plea to be effective in a democratic country, that we owe these people nothing because they cannot help themselves; as if governments were instituted for the care of the strong only. The argument against their voting which is based upon their ignorance strikes us oddly in the mouths of those whose own hope of votes lies in the ignorance, or, what is often worse, the prejudice, of the voters. Besides, we do not demand that the seceding States should at once confer the right of suffrage on the blacks, but only that they should give them the same chance to attain it, and the same inducement to make themselves worthy of it, as to every one else. The answer that they have not the right in some of the Northern States may be a reproach to the intelligence of those States, but has no relevancy if made to the general government. It is not with these States that we are making terms or claim any right to make them, nor is the number of their non-voting population so large as to make them dangerous, or the prejudice against them so great that it may not safely be left to time and common sense. It was not till all men were made equal before the law, and the fact recognized that government is something that does not merely preside over, but reside in, the rights of all, that even white peasants were enabled to rise out of their degradation, and to become the strength instead of the danger of France. Nothing short of such a reform could have conquered the contempt and aversion with which the higher classes looked upon the emancipated serf. Norman-French literature reeks with the outbreak
of this feeling toward the ancestors, whether Jews or villeins, of the very men who are now the aristocracy of South Carolina,–a feeling as intense, as nauseous in its expression, and as utterly groundless, as that against the negro now. We are apt, it would seem, a little to confound the meaning of the two terms government and self-government, and the principles on which they respectively rest. If the latter has its rights, the former has quite as plainly its duties; and one of them certainly is to see that no freedom should be allowed to the parts which would endanger the safety of the whole. An occasion calling for the exercise of this duty is forced upon us now, and we must be equal to it. Self-government, in any rightful definition of it, can hardly be stretched so far that it will cover, as the late Rebels and their Northern advocates contend, the right to dispose absolutely of the destinies of four millions of people, the allies and hearty friends of the United States, without allowing them any voice in the matter.
It is alleged by reckless party orators that those who ask for guaranties before readmitting the seceded States wish to treat them with harshness, if not with cruelty. Mr. Thaddeus Stevens is triumphantly quoted, as if his foolish violence fairly represented the political opinions of the Union party. They might as well be made responsible for his notions of finance. We are quite willing to let Mr. Stevens be paired off with Mr. Vallandigham, and to believe that neither is a fair exponent of the average sentiment of his party. Calling names should be left to children, with whom, as with too large a class of our political speakers, it seems to pass for argument. We believe it never does so with the people; certainly not with the intelligent, who make a majority among them, unless (as in the case of “Copperhead”) there be one of those hardly-to-be-defined realities behind the name which they are so quick to detect. We cannot say that we have any great sympathy for the particular form of mildness which discovers either a “martyr,” or a “pure-hearted patriot,” or even a “lofty statesman,” in Mr. Jefferson Davis, the latter qualification of him having been among the discoveries of the London Times when it thought his side was going to win; but we can say that nothing has surprised us more, or seemed to us a more striking evidence of the humanizing influence of democracy, than the entire absence of any temper that could be called revengeful in the people of the North toward their late enemies. If it be a part of that inconsistent mixture of purely personal motives and more than legitimate executive action which Mr. Johnson is pleased to call his “policy,”–if it be a part of that to treat the South with all the leniency that is short of folly and all the conciliation that is short of meanness,–then we were advocates of it before Mr. Johnson. While he was yet only ruminating in his vindictive mind, sore with such rancor as none but a “plebeian,” as he used to call himself, can feel against his social superiors, the only really agrarian proclamation ever put forth by any legitimate ruler, and which was countersigned by the now suddenly “conservative” Secretary of State, we were in favor of measures that should look to governing the South by such means as the South itself afforded, or could be made to afford. It is true that, as a part of the South, we reckoned the colored people bound to us by every tie of honor, justice, and principle, but we never wished to wink out of sight the natural feelings of men suddenly deprived of what they conceived to be their property,–of men, too, whom we respected for their courage and endurance even in a bad cause. But we believed then, as we believe now, and as events have justified us in believing, that there could be no graver error than to flatter our own feebleness and uncertainty by calling it magnanimity,–a virtue which does not scorn the society of patience and prudence, but which cannot subsist apart from courage and fidelity to principle. A people so boyish and conceited as the Southerners have always shown themselves to be, unwilling ever to deal with facts, but only with their own imagination of them, would be sure to interpret indecision as cowardice, if not as an unwilling tribute to that superiority of which men who really possess it are the last to boast. They have learned nothing from the war but to hate the men who subdued them, and to misinterpret and misrepresent the causes of their subduing; and even now, when a feeling has been steadily growing in the rest of the country for the last nine months deeper and more intense than any during the war, because mixed with an angry sense of unexpected and treacherous disappointment, instead of setting their strength to the rebuilding of their shattered social fabric, they are waiting, as they waited four years ago, for a division in the North which will never come, and hailing in Andrew Johnson a scourge of God who is to avenge them in the desolation of our cities! Is it not time that these men were transplanted at least into the nineteenth century, and, if they cannot be suddenly Americanized, made to understand something of the country which was too good for them, even though at the cost of a rude shock to their childish self-conceit? Is that a properly reconstructed Union in the Southern half of which no Northern man’s life is safe except at the sacrifice of his conscience, his freedom of speech, of everything but his love of money? To our minds the providential purpose of this intervention of Mr. Johnson in our affairs is to warn us of the solemn duty that lies upon us in this single crisis of our history, when the chance is offered us of stamping our future with greatness or contempt, and which requires something like statesmanship in the people themselves, as well as in those who act for them. The South insisted upon war, and has had enough of it; it is now our turn to insist that the peace we have conquered shall be so settled as to make war impossible for the future.
But how is this to be done? The road to it is a very plain one. We shall gain all we want if we make the South really prosperous; for with prosperity will come roads, schools, churches, printing presses, industry, thrift, intelligence, and security of life and property. Hitherto the prosperity of the South has been factitious; it has been a prosperity of the Middle Ages, keeping the many poor that a few might show their wealth in the barbarism of showy equipages and numerous servants, and spend in foreign cities the wealth that should have built up civilization and made way for refinement at home. There were no public libraries, no colleges worthy of the name; there was no art, no science,–still worse, no literature but Simms’s: there was no desire for them. We do not say it in reproach; we are simply stating a fact, and are quite aware that the North is far behind Europe in these things. But we are not behind her in the value we set upon them; are even before her in the price we are willing to pay for them, and are in the way to get them. The South was not in that way; could not get into it, indeed, so long as the labor that made wealth was cut off from any interest in its expenditure, nor had any goal for such hopes as soared away from the dreary level of its lifelong drudgery but in the grave and the world beyond it. We are not blind to what may be said on the other side, nor to that fatal picturesqueness, so attractive to sentimental minds and so melancholy to thoughtful ones, which threw a charm over certain exceptional modes of Southern life among the older families in Virginia and South Carolina. But there are higher and manlier kinds of beauty,–barer and sterner, some would call them,–with less softly rounded edges, certainly, than the Wolf’s Crag picturesqueness, which carries the mind with pensive indolence toward the past, instead of stirring it with a sense of present life, or bracing it with the hope of future opportunity, and which at once veils and betrays the decay of ancient civilizations. Unless life is arranged for the mere benefit of the novelist, what right had these bits of last-century Europe here? Even the virtues of the South were some of them anachronisms; and even those that were not existed side by side with an obtuseness of moral sense that could make a hero of Semmes, and a barbarism that could starve prisoners by the thousand.
Some philosophers, to be sure, plead with us that the Southerners are remarkable for their smaller hands and feet, though so good an observer as Thackeray pronounced this to be true of the whole American people; but really we cannot think such arguments as this will give any pause to the inevitable advance of that democracy, somewhat rude and raw as yet, a clumsy boy-giant, and not too well mannered, whose office it nevertheless is to make the world ready for the true second coming of Christ in the practical supremacy of his doctrine, and its incarnation, after so many centuries of burial, in the daily lives of men. We have been but dimly, if at all, conscious of the greatness of our errand, while we have already accomplished a part of it in bringing together the people of all nations to see each other no longer as aliens or enemies, but as equal partakers of the highest earthly dignity,–a common manhood. We have been forced, whether we would or no, first to endure, then to tolerate, and at last to like men from all the four corners of the world, and to see that each added a certain virtue of his own to that precious amalgam of which we are in due time to fashion a great nation. We are now brought face to face with our duty toward one of those dusky races that have long sat in the shadow of the world; we are to be taught to see the Christ disguised also in these, and to find at last that a part of our salvation is inextricably knit up with the necessity of doing them justice and leading them to the light. This is no sentimental fancy; it is written in plain characters upon the very surface of things. We have done everything to get rid of the negro; and the more we did, the more he was thrust upon us in every possible relation of life and aspect of thought. One thing we have not tried,–a spell before which he would vanish away from us at once, by taking quietly the place, whatever it be, to which Nature has assigned him. We have not acknowledged him as our brother. Till we have done so he will be always at our elbow, a perpetual discomfort to himself and us. Now this one thing that will give us rest is precisely what the South, if we leave the work of reconstruction in their hands, will make it impossible for us to do; and yet it must be done ere America can penetrate the Southern States. It is for this reason, and not with any desire of establishing a standing garrison of four hundred thousand loyal voters in the South, that we insist on the absolute necessity of justice to the black man. Not that we have not a perfect right to demand the reception of such a garrison, but we wish the South to govern itself; and this it will never be able to do, it will be governed as heretofore by its circumstances, if we allow it to replace slavery by the disenfranchisement of color, and to make an Ireland out of what should be the most productive, populous, and happy part of the Union. We may evade this manifest duty of ours from indolence, or indifference, or selfish haste; but if there is one truth truer than another, it is that no man or nation ever neglected a duty that was not sooner or later laid upon them in a heavier form, to be done at a dearer rate. Neither man nor nation can find rest short of their highest convictions.
This is something that altogether transcends any partisan politics. It is of comparatively little consequence to us whether Congress or the President carry the day, provided only that America triumph. That is, after all, the real question. On which side is the future of the country,–the future that we cannot escape if we would, but which our action may embarrass and retard? If we had looked upon the war as a mere trial of physical strength between two rival sections of the country, we should have been the first to oppose it, as a wicked waste of treasure and blood. But it was something much deeper than this, and so the people of the North instinctively recognized it to be from the first,–instinctively, we say, and not deliberately at first; but before it was over, their understandings had grasped its true meaning, as an effort of the ideal America, which was to them half a dream and half a reality, to cast off an alien element. It was this ideal something, not the less strongly felt because vaguely defined, that made them eager, as only what is above sordid motives can, to sacrifice all that they had and all that they were rather than fail in its attainment. And it is to men not yet cooled from the white-heat of this passionate mood that Mr. Johnson comes with his paltry offer of “my policy,” in exchange for the logical consequences of all this devotion and this sacrifice. What is any one man’s policy, and especially any one weak man’s policy, against the settled drift of a nation’s conviction, conscience, and instinct? The American people had made up not only their minds, but their hearts, and no man who knows anything of human nature could doubt what their decision would be. They wanted only a sufficient obstacle to awaken them to a full consciousness of what was at stake, and that obstacle the obstinate vanity of the President and the blindness or resentment of his prime minister have supplied. They are fully resolved to have the great stake they played for and won, and that stake was the Americanization of all America, nothing more and nothing less. Mr. Johnson told us in New York, with so profound a misconception of the feeling of the Northern States as was only possible to a vulgar mind, and that mind a Southern one, that the South had set up slavery as its stake, and lost, and that now the North was in danger of losing the stake it had risked on reconstruction in the national debt. Mr. Johnson is still, it would seem, under that delusion which led the South into the war; namely, that it was that section of the country which was the chief element in its wealth and greatness. But no Northern man, who, so long as he lives, will be obliged to pay his fine of taxes for the abolition of slavery which was forced upon us by the South, is likely to think it very hard that the South should be compelled to furnish its share toward the common burden, or will be afraid that the loyal States, whose urgent demands compelled a timid Congress at last to impose direct taxes, will be unable to meet their obligations in the future, as in the past.
We say again that the questions before the country are not to be decided on any grounds of personal prejudice or partiality. We are far from thinking that Congress has in all respects acted as became the dignity of its position, or seized all the advantage of the opportunity. They have seemed to us sometimes afraid of coming before the people with a direct, frank, and simple statement of what was not only the best thing that could be done, but the one thing that must be done. They were afraid of the people, and did not count securely, as they should have done, on that precious seeing which four years of gradually wakening moral sense had lent to the people’s eyes. They should not have shrunk from taking upon themselves and their party all the odium of being in the right; of being on the side of justice, humanity, and of the America which is yet to be, whoever may fear to help and whoever may try to hinder. The vulgar cry would be against them, at any rate, and they might reckon on being accused of principles which they thought it prudent to conceal, whether they committed their party to them or not. With those who have the strong side, as they always do who have conscience for an ally, a bold policy is the only prosperous one. It is always wisest to accept in advance all the logical consequences that can be drawn from the principles we profess, and to make a stand on the extremest limits of our position. It will be time enough to fall back when we are driven out. In taking a half-way position at first, we expose ourselves to all the disadvantage and discouragement of seeming to fight on a retreat, and cut ourselves off from our supplies. For the supplies of a party which is contending for a clear principle, and not for its own immediate success, are always drawn from the highest moral ground included in its lines. We are not speaking here of abstractions or wire-drawn corollaries, but of those plain ethical axioms which every man may apprehend, and which are so closely involved in the question now before the country for decision. We at least could lose nothing by letting the people know exactly what we meant; for we meant nothing that could not claim the suffrage of sincere democracy, of prudent statesmanship, or of jealousy for the nation’s honor and safety. That the Republican party should be broken up is of comparatively little consequence; for it would be merged in the stronger party of those who are resolved that no by-questions, no fallacies of generosity to the vanquished, shall turn it aside from the one fixed purpose it has at heart; that the war shall not have been in vain; and that the Rebel States, when they return to the Union, shall return to it as an addition of power, and under such terms as that they must, and not merely may, be fixed there. Let us call things by their right names, and keep clearly in view both the nature of the thing vanquished and of the war in which we were victors. When men talk of generosity toward a suppliant foe, they entirely forget what that foe really was. To the people of the South no one thinks of being unmerciful. But they were only the blind force wielded by our real enemy,–an enemy, prophesy what smooth things you will, with whom we can never be reconciled and whom it would be madness to spare. And this enemy was not any body of kindred people, but that principle of evil fatally repugnant to our institutions, which, flinging away the hilt of its broken weapon, is now cheating itself with the hope that it can forge a new one of the soft and treacherous metal of Northern disloyalty. The war can in no respect be called a civil war, though that was what the South, in its rash ignorance, threatened the North with. It was as much a war between two different nations, and the geographical line was as distinctly drawn between them, as in the late war between North and South Germany. They had been living, it is true, under the same government, but the South regarded this as implying no tie more intimate than that which brought the representatives of Prussia and Austria together in the Frankfort Diet. We have the same right to impose terms and to demand guaranties that Prussia has, that the victor always has.
Many people are led to favor Mr. Johnson’s policy because they dislike those whom they please to call the “Republican leaders.” If ever a party existed that had no recognized leaders, it is the Republican party. Composed for the last five years, at least, of men who, themselves professing all shades of opinion, were agreed only in a determination to sustain the honor and preserve the existence of the nation, it has been rather a majority than a party, employing the legislative machine to carry out the purposes of public opinion. The people were the true inspirers of all its measures, and accordingly it was left without a definite policy the moment the mere politicians in its ranks became doubtful as to what direction the popular mind would take. It had no recognized leader either in the House or Senate just at the time when it first stood in need of such. The majority of its representatives there tried in vain to cast any political horoscope by which it would be safe for them individually to be guided. They showed the same distrust of the sound judgment of the people and their power to grasp principles that they showed at the beginning of the war, and at every discouraging moment while it was going on. Now that the signs of the times show unmistakably to what the popular mind is making itself up, they have once more a policy, if we may call that so which is only a calculation of what it would be “safe to go before the people with,” as they call it. It is always safe to go before them with plain principles of right, and with the conclusions that must be drawn from them by common sense, though this is what too many of our public men can never understand. Now joining a Know-Nothing “lodge,” now hanging on the outskirts of a Fenian “circle,” they mistake the momentary eddies of popular whimsy for the great current that sets always strongly in one direction through the life and history of the nation. Is it, as foreigners assert, the fatal defect of our system to fill our highest offices with men whose views in politics are bounded by the next district election? When we consider how noble the science is,–nobler even than astronomy, for it deals with the mutual repulsions and attractions, not of inert masses, but of bodies endowed with thought and will, calculates moral forces, and reckons the orbits of God’s purposes toward mankind,–we feel sure that it is to find nobler teachers and students, and to find them even here.
There is another class of men who are honestly drawn toward the policy of what we are fain, for want of a more definite name, to call the Presidential Opposition party, by their approval of the lenient measures which they suppose to be peculiar to it. But our objection to the measures advocated by the Philadelphia Convention, so far as we can trace any definite shape amid the dust-cloud of words, is, not they would treat the Rebel States with moderation, but that they propose to take them back on trust. We freely admit that we should have been inclined to see more reasonableness in this course if we had not the examples of Jamaica and New Orleans before our eyes; if we had not seen both there and in other instances with which history supplies us, that it is not safe to leave the settlement of such matters in the hands of men who would be more than human if they had not the prejudices and the resentments of caste. Here is just one of those cases of public concern which call for the arbitrament of a cool and impartial third party,–the very office expected of a popular government,–which should as carefully abstain from meddling in matters that may be safely left to be decided by natural laws as it should be prompt to interfere where those laws would to the general detriment be inoperative. It should be remembered that self-interest, though its requirements may seem plain and imperative to an unprejudiced bystander, is something which men, and even communities, are often ready to sacrifice at the bidding of their passions, and of none so readily as their pride. As for the attachment between master and slave, whose existence is sometimes asseverated in the face of so many glaring facts to the contrary, and on which we are asked to depend as something stronger than written law, we have very little faith in it. The system of clanship in the Scottish Highlands is the strongest case to which we can appeal in modern times of a truly patriarchal social order. In that, the pride of the chief was answered by the willing devotion of the sept, and the two were bound together as closely as kindred blood, immemorial tradition, and mutual dependence could link them; and yet, the moment it became for the interest of the chieftain, in whom alone was the landed title, to convert the mountain slopes into sheep-walks, farewell to all considerations of ancestral legend and ideal picturesqueness! The clansmen were dispossessed of their little holdings, and shipped off to the colonies like cattle, by the very men for whom they would have given their lives without question. The relation, just like that of master and slave, or the proposed one of superior and dependent, in the South, had become an anachronism, to preserve which would have been a vain struggle against that power of Necessity which the Greeks revered as something god-like. In our own case, so far from making it for the interest of the ruling classes at the South to elevate the condition of the black man, the policy of Mr. Johnson offers them a bribe to keep him in a state of hopeless dependency and subjection. It gives them more members of Congress in proportion as they have more unrepresented inhabitants. Mr. Beecher asks us (and we see no possible reason for doubting the honesty of his opinions, whatever may be their soundness) whether we are afraid of the South, and tells us that, if we allow them to govern us, we shall richly deserve it. It is not that we are afraid of, nor are we in the habit of forming our opinions on any such imaginary grounds; but we confess that we are afraid of committing an act of national injustice, of national dishonor, of national breach of faith, and therefore of national unwisdom and weakness. Moderation is an excellent thing; but taking things for granted is not moderation, and there may be such a thing as being immoderate in concession and confidence. Aristotle taught us long ago that true moderation was as far from the too-much of blind passion on the one hand as from that of equally blind lukewarmness on the other. We have an example of wise reconstructive policy in that measure of the Bourbon-restoration ministry, which compensated the returned emigrants for their confiscated estates by a grant from the public treasury. And the measure was wise, for the reason that it enabled the new proprietors and the ousted ones to live as citizens of the same country together without mutual hatred and distrust. We do not propose to compensate the slaveholder for the loss of his chattels, because the cases are not parallel, and because Mr. Johnson no less than we acknowledges the justice and validity of their emancipation. But the situation of the negro is strikingly parallel with that of the new holders of land in France. As they were entitled to security, so he has a right not only to be secured in his freedom, but in the consequences which legitimately flow from it. For it is only so that he can be insured against that feeling of distrust and uncertainty of the future which will prevent him from being profitable to himself, his former master, and the country. If we sought a parallel for Mr. Johnson’s “policy,” we should find it in James II., thinking his prerogative strong enough to overcome the instincts, convictions, and fears of England.
However much fair-minded men may have been wearied with the backing and filling of Congress, and their uncertainty of action on some of the most important questions that have come before them,–however the dignity, and even propriety, of their attitude toward Mr. Johnson may be in some respects honestly called in question,–no one who has looked fairly at the matter can pronounce the terms they have imposed on the South as conditions of restoration harsh ones. The character of Congress is not before the country, but simply the character of the plan they propose. For ourselves, we should frankly express our disgust at the demagogism which courted the Fenians; for, however much we may sympathize with the real wrongs of Ireland, it was not for an American Congress to declare itself in favor of a movement which based itself on the claim of every Irish voter in the country to a double citizenship, in which the adopted country was made secondary, and which, directed as it was against a province where Irishmen are put on equal terms with every other inhabitant, and where their own Church is the privileged one, was nothing better than burglary and murder. Whatever may be Mr. Seward’s faults, he was certainly right in his dealing with that matter, unless he is to be blamed for slowness. But as regards the terms offered by Congress to the South, they are very far from harsh or unreasonable; they are lamb-like compared to what we had reason to fear from Mr. Johnson, if we might judge by his speeches and declarations of a year or two ago. But for the unhappy hallucination which led Mr. Johnson first to fancy himself the people of the United States, and then to quarrel with the party which elected him for not granting that he was so, they would not have found a man in the North to question their justice and propriety, unless among those who from the outset would have been willing to accept Mr. Jefferson Davis as the legitimate President of the whole country. The terms imposed by Congress really demand nothing more than that the South should put in practice at home that Monroe Doctrine of which it has always been so clamorous a supporter when it could be used for party purposes. The system of privileged classes which the South proposes to establish is a relic of old Europe which we think it bad policy to introduce again on this continent, after our so fresh experience in the war of the evil consequences that may spring from it. Aristocracy can form no more intimate and hearty union with democracy under one form than under another; and unless such a union be accomplished, or we can see some reasonable hope of its future accomplishment, we are as far from our object as ever.
The plan proposed disfranchises no one, does not even interfere with the right of the States to settle the conditions of the franchise. It merely asks that the privilege shall be alike within reach of all, attainable on the same terms by those who have shown themselves our friends as by those whose hands were so lately red with the blood of our nearest and dearest. We have nothing to do with the number of actual loyalists at the South, but with the number of possible ones. The question is not how many now exist there, and what are their rights, but how many may be made to exist there, and by what means. The duty of the country to itself transcends all private claims or class interests. And when people speak of “the South,” do they very clearly define to themselves what they mean by the words? Do they not really mean, without knowing it, the small body of dangerous men who have misguided that part of the country to its own ruin, and almost to that of the Republic? In the mind of our government the South should have no such narrow meaning. It should see behind the conspirators of yesterday an innumerable throng of dusky faces, with their dumb appeal, not to its mercy, its generosity, or even its gratitude, but to its plighted faith, to the solemn engagement of its chief magistrate and their martyr. Any theory of the South which leaves out the negro is a scandal and reproach to our honesty; any attempt at another of those fatal compromises which ignore his claims upon us, but cannot ignore his claims upon nature and God and that inevitable future which we may hope to put far from us, but which is even now at our door, would be an imputation on our judgment, and an acknowledgment that we were unworthy to measure our strength with a great occasion when it met us face to face.
We are very far from joining in the unfeeling outcry which is sometimes raised by thoughtless persons against the Southern people, because they decorate with flowers the graves of their dead soldiers, and cherish the memory of those who fell in the defence of a cause which they could not see to be already fallen before they entered its service. They have won our respect, the people of Virginia especially, by their devotion and endurance in sustaining what they believed to be their righteous quarrel. They would rather deserve our reprobation, if they were wanting in these tributes to natural and human feeling. They are as harmless as the monument to the memory of those who fell for the Pretender, which McDonald of Glenaladale raised after the last of the Stuarts was in his grave. Let us sympathize with and respect all such exhibitions of natural feeling. But at the same time let us take care that it shall not be at the risk of his life that the poor black shall fling his tribute on the turf of those who died, with equal sacrifice of self, in a better cause. Let us see to it that the Union men of the South shall be safe in declaring and advocating the reasons of their faith in a cause which we believe to be sacred. Let us secure such opportunities of education to the masses of the Southern people, whether white or black, as shall make any future rebellion impracticable, and render it possible for the dead of both sides to sleep peaceably together under the safeguard of a common humanity, while the living dwell under the protection of a nationality which both shall value alike. Let us put it out of the power of a few ambitious madmen to shake, though they could not endanger, the foundations of a structure which enshrines the better hope of mankind. When Congress shall again come together, strong in the sympathy of a united people, let them show a dignity equal to the importance of the crisis. Let them give the President a proof of their patriotism, not only by allowing him the opportunity, but by making it easy for him, to return to the national position he once occupied. Let them not lower their own dignity and that of the nation by any bandying of reproaches with the Executive. The cause which we all have at heart is vulgarized by any littleness or show of personal resentment in its representatives, and is of too serious import to admit of any childishness or trifling. Let there be no more foolish talk of impeachment for what is at best a poor infirmity of nature, and could only be raised into a harmful importance by being invested with the dignity of a crime against the state. Nothing could be more unwise than to entangle in legal quibbles a cause so strong in its moral grounds, so transparent in its equity, and so plain to the humblest apprehension in its political justice and necessity. We have already one criminal half turned martyr at Fortress Monroe; we should be in no hurry to make another out of even more vulgar material,–for unhappily martyrs are not Mercuries. We have only to be unswervingly faithful to what is the true America of our hope and belief, and whatever is American will rise from one end of the country to the other instinctively to our side, with more than ample means of present succor and of final triumph. It is only by being loyal and helpful to Truth that men learn at last how loyal and helpful she can be to them.