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[366]

Pocket morality — war for Trade.

in the year, 1787, Benjamin Franklin wrote to an English gentle man as follows: “I read with pleasure the account you give of the flourishing state of your commerce and manufactures, and of the plenty you have of resources to carry the nation through all its difficulties. You have one of the finest countries in the world; and if you can be cured of the folly of making war for trade, in which war more has been expended than the profits of any trade can compensate, you may make it one of the happiest.” This advice, we suppose, would be quite thrown away upon a newspaper irrevocably wedded to the system here so pointedly condemned.

The London Times accepts the well-known aphorism of Franklin with a qualification — it thinks there never was a good war if it was unprofitable, and never a bad peace if it added to the British wealth. Such a publication should be treated with all possible candor. If its principle be to have no principle, and if it would quite as severely scorn to affect a virtue as to possess one, let it at least aspire to the praise of a sublime consistency. If it must serve mammon, let us be thankful that it does not pretend to serve God! If it must ignore consistency, it should have the credit of a frank advertisement of its renunciation. What it thinks upon, the first of January it thinks for the first of January, and by no means for the second. Its avowed business is not to speak the truth, but to “bull” this stock and to [367] “bear” that. This being understood, why should we be angry with it? All that can be said of it is, that it follows its instincts, and that its instincts are commercial. It does a wholesale business in a retail way. Who blames it? Who blames the Calmucks for eating raw horse-meat? Who blames the cannibal of Sumatra for eating cooked man-meat?--not because he likes it — for he is very careful to tell the traveler that he does not like it — he only devours it as a religious duty — only that he may propitiate the god of war by masticating, swallowing and digesting the slain. He does not quarrel with the flavor of the tid-bits, from the deglutition of which he anticipates such immense advantages. It is in the same bold and devoted way that this Times newspaper swallows Slavery on Monday, rejects it on Tuesday, and swallows it again on Wednesday, relishing the morsels well or ill, according to the fluctuations of the cotton market. Yesterday it pronounced human slavery to be a Divine Institution, and quoted St. Paul out of its borrowed Bible; today it declares that it “would unfeignedly rejoice” if the Emancipation Proclamation could only be effectual! What will it say to-morrow? Exactly what it may think the interests of trade demand.

Joey B. is sharp, sir! devilish sharp!

It would ill become us, members as we are of a great commercial community, to speak disrespectfully of mercantile prudence and sagacity. We yield to no one in our most respectful estimate of the ameliorating influences of trade in promoting [368] the comfort and even the higher morality of mall. We know enough of monetary operations to understand that they can only be successfully promoted by forethought, caution and deliberate prudence. We are ready to make all proper allowances for the instinct of self-preservation when it is shrinking from insolvency. We believe money to be a good thing, and that it is a good thing to have money. We believe that society has no member more worthy of its respect than the high-minded merchant, who, without casting discredit upon trade by unscrupulous rapacity, increases our sources of happiness, brings capital to the assistance of civilization, and supplies that material aid without which the progress of mankind would cease.

But all our respect for the honorable and enlightened trader, cannot conceal from us those moral perils which environ him. Indeed, in every scheme of religion they are admitted; and the most solemn warning against absolute devotion to money-getting came from the Founder of our Faith, and has since his time been repeated in countless bodies of divinity, and uttered from ten thousand pulpits. Money can do much and buy much, but there are some things which it cannot do and others which it cannot purchase. We may admit it to be the sinews of war, but is it the heart or the muscles? In England, we think, very unfortunately, the tendency has been toward a worship of wealth simply as such, and a contempt, not, perhaps, for personal, but certainly for national poverty. “He's so very poor,” says one person [369] to another in an English comedy, “that you would take him for an inhabitant of Italy.” This is the perfection of purse-proud complacency. De Tocqueville observes, that “in the eyes of England her enemies must be rogues and her friends great men.” It is this association of arrogance and acquisitiveness which has given to England a bad public reputation. “When she seems,” says De Tocqueville “to care for foreign nations, she cares only for herself.” A man who acquires a character like this will find money powerless to purchase public respect; he may be feared, but he will also be detested; nor do we believe that there is one rule for nations and another for individuals.

Finally, in the spirit of Franklin's observation that the rapacity of England has usually cost more than it came to, we beg leave to suggest that an unjust and selfish policy is equally short-sighted. Have British economists been able to determine that the establishment of the Confederacy would promote the manufacturing interests of their country? Have they in their calculations recognized the intense prejudice against England which exists in the Slaveholding States? Have they estimated the chances of a certain production of the coveted staple, if the present system of slave-cultivation is to be continued I Have they considered the difficulties which they may encounter in maintaining amiable relations with the unreasonable and impetuous oligarchy which now controls, and, in the event of their independence, will continue to control, the revolted States? [370]

These, it seems to us, are questions which even selfishness can afford to consider.

February 6, 1863.

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