No one can realize more vividly than I do, that the History through whose pages our great-grand-children will contemplate the momentous struggle whereof this country has recently been and still is the arena, will not and cannot now be written; and that its author must give to the patient, careful, critical study of innumerable documents and letters, an amount of time and thought which I could not have commanded, unless I had been able to devote years, instead of months only, to the preparation of this volume.
I know, at least, what History is, and how it must be made; I know how very far this work must fall short of the lofty ideal.
If any of my numerous fellow-laborers in this field is deluded with the notion that he has written the
history of our gigantic civil war, I
, certainly, am free from like hallucination.
What I have aimed to do, is so to arrange the material facts, and so to embody the more essential documents, or parts of documents, illustrating those facts, that the attentive, intelligent reader may learn from tills work not only what were the leading incidents of our civil war, but its causes, incitements, and the inevitable sequence whereby ideas proved the germ of events.
I believe the thoughtful reader of this volume can hardly fail to see that tile great struggle in which we are engaged was the unavoidable result of antagonisms imbedded in the very nature of our heterogeneous institutions;--that ours was indeed “ an irrepressible conflict,” which might have been precipitated or postponed, but could by no means lave been prevented ;--that the successive ‘compromises’, whereby it was so long put off, were — however intended — deplorable mistakes, detrimental to our National character;--that we ought — so early, at least, as 1819-to have definitively and conclusively established the right of the constitutional majority to shape our National policy according to their settled convictions, subject only to the Constitution
as legally expounded and applied.
Had the majority then stood firm, they would have precluded the waste of thousands of millions of treasure and rivers of generous blood.
I presume this work goes further back, and devotes more attention to the remoter, more recondite causes of our civil strife, than any rival.
At all events, I have aimed to give a full and fair, though necessarily condensed, view of all that impelled to our desperate struggle.
I have so often heard or read this demurrer--“You Abolitionists begin with Secession, or the bombardment of Sumter
, slurring over all that you had done, through a series of years, to provoke the South
to hostilities,” that I have endeavored to meet that objection fairly and fully.
If I have failed to dig down to the foundations, the defect flows from lack of capacity or deficiency of perception in the author; for he has intently purposed and aimed to begin at the beginning.
I have made frequent and copious citations from letters, speeches, messages, and other documents, many of which have not the merit of rarity; mainly because I could only thus present the views of political antagonists in terms which they must recognize and respect as authentic.
In an age of passionate controversy, few are capable even of stating an opponent's position in language that he will admit to be accurate and fair.
And there are thousands who cannot to-day realize that they ever held opinions and accepted dogmas to which they unhesitatingly subscribed less than ten years ago. There is, then, but one safe