previous next

Bobbing around.

this Civil War has unsettled other things than the political peace of the country; it has played mischief with the intellectuals of a great many people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and led to a wide-spread impression that, contrary to all precedents, flax will [209] quench fire. “Why do n't you settle your differences?” roars The London Times. “Why do n't you make up your quarrel?” bellows the British orator. “Let's fix things!” observes the remainder-newspaper of the Constitutional Union Party. “Niggers have nothing to do with the war!” cries Brigadier This. “We are not fighting for the niggers!” exclaims Adjutant That. “Not at all!” responds some Congressional Orator--“very far from it!” As for the policy of the Government, so far as it is deducible from Messages, Reports, Speeches and the other usual sources of information — who knows what that policy is? For what with contradictory orders, and Laws of Congress which gentlemen in epaulets think themselves at liberty to disregard, and what with British conversion to Pro-Slavery, and the general oversetting of all past moralities appertaining to that institution, and what with the Wilkes complication, the muddle has now become so general, that it is quite time to recall, if we can, our scattered senses, and to try to understand why we are fighting these expensive battles, and enduring, with more or less fortitude, these agonizing experiences.

One curse of war is, that after it has been waged for a short time, the bustle of its management and the pressure of its exigencies push out of sight, or temporarily shoulder aside, its original causes. War creates continually new complications. Substantially, the affair of the Trent has nothing to do with the war itself; and yet, in the matter, our officer did no more than he thought himself absolutely obliged to do, and [210] although, so far as we were wrong, we have made haste to offer every satisfaction, yet this wrong, venial at the worst, to a pair of slaveholders, has been sufficient utterly to abolish the Abolition sentiment of England. Out of sight at once goes bleeding Africa, and the poor blacks and emancipation; and this very England which two years ago was coddling American fugitives from Slavery, is now threatening so to interpose in this quarrel, that Slavery, in a fair way to be abolished if we are not meddled with, shall be a perpetuated nuisance and an eternal crime. What are we to make of this odd compound of selfishness and sympathy, of this penny-wise philanthropy, of this cheap pity, which subsides into indifference the moment it promises to cost a little more than an annual subscription of a couple of guineas?

However, fault-finding in such a case as this should begin, like charity, at home. There is enough that is comically curious here without going abroad in search thereof. For instance:

Here is a newspaper-we mention no name, for it would not be civil-but here is a newspaper sufficiently noisy in behalf of the Union and Victory and our Flag and Eagle; which keeps rousing and rallying our Brigadiers, and calling for action; which is a perpetual fountain of pretty predictions; and is generally as patriotic as possible; while at the same times if the Governor of Massachusetts in his Annual Message alludes to Slavery as the cause and the curse, this same amiable journal at once begins to growl out: No such thing--“niggers” have nothing to do [211] with it!--let the “niggers” alone!--hold your tongue about Slavery!--rally for the Constitution, but, as you hope for peace, say not a word about Emancipation. It affirms that all the Abolitionists are fanatical, enthusiastic, incendiary blackguards. If a Member of Congress ventures to hint that to this same emancipation you must come at last, that it will not do to leave nine-tenths of the property of the insurgents sacredly exempt from the perils of war, the poor Member is instantly denounced as fiercely as he would have been two years ago, and is at once written down as both an ass and a pyromaniac!

How long do gentlemen suppose that we can go on in this way?

Battles are earnest matters. Men are killed, a great many of them, in battles; and human life, at least white human life, is worth something. War is expensive, and dollars are dollars. There is no cause under heaven of this quarrel but Human Slavery. It matters not into what form of words you put it, or whether you display or disguise it, but every child knows that this insurrection is in the interests of Slavery, and of a very mean kind of Slavery at that. If we fight well we weaken Slavery, if we gain a battle, Slavery receives a blow; our opponents are slaveholders, and they are in the field avowedly as slaveholders to redress wrongs said to be inflicted upon them as slaveholders; while the main purport of all their manifestoes to the world is just this — that Slavery is in danger, and that Slavery must be preserved. What fools, idiots, dolts, knaves, or good-natured [212] asses are we, that we do not accept the issue which is tendered to us, when such acceptance would make us strong, not merely in the righteousness of our cause, but in material and vital assistance and alliances! Can 't we afford to be strong? Are we afraid of success? Do we shrink from victory?

And what are we afraid of? Of the Constitution? What kind of love for the Constitution is that which invariably interprets it in the interests of its deadliest enemies? How are you to help the Constitution by helping those who are bent upon its final demolition? What claim to constitutional consideration have these reckless rebels, who have trampled the venerable instrument under their feet? Is it to be all Constitution for them and no Constitution for us? The worst that we wish these banded and embattled felons is that they may get just what the terms of the Constitution decree to them. We say plainly that there is no other government under the sun which would have hesitated for a moment — which would not, long ere this, under like circumstances of national peril, have published a general edict of emancipation — which would not ere this have had in its ranks tens of thousands of well-drilled and well-armed emancipated slaves — and there are very few governments, let us add, which would not have sedulously promoted an uprising of the negroes, and which would not have fought the white insurrection with a black one.

But we are nicer. The benumbing muddle is on us still. “What shall we do?--what shall we do?-what shall we do?” we cry with incessant and ingenious [213] variety of inflection. “The poor blacks” --we continue--“we cannot do anything with them — poor creatures!--on account of the Constitution, you know — and the Compromise Act, you know — and they would cut all their masters' throats, you know!” So we wait quietly for the masters to come and cut our throats — which will be more agreeable to the forms of the Constitution. Which cheerful work, with a little pleasant violence to our wives and daughters, with a small robbery of our treasure, with here and there the burning of a sea-board city, we have no doubt the man-owners will soon be ready to perform — if we will only let Slavery alone!

It is right to be taught by the enemy, always provided the terms of tuition are not too high. He tells us that we should let Slavery alone. And be sure he is a very sincere preceptor! Accept the maxim — let Slavery alone-assuage its wrath-give it a kiss of toleration-and then see how long it will let you alone!

January 8, 1862.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
England (United Kingdom) (2)
Massachusetts (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Atlantic Ocean (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
January 8th, 1862 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: