in making this compilation, I have trusted that the memory of the reader would be sufficient for the explanation of most allusions; and commentary would not only have cumbered these pages, but would hardly have been fair.
Nor have I ventured upon any corrections or alterations of importance.
These articles are precisely what they profess to be; they were, from day to day, hastily written to serve an immediate purpose; and they are, therefore, entitled, I hope, to a lenient and charitable judgment.
A book like this would be of little value if it did not, in some respects, illustrate one of the most extraordinary changes in the opinions of a great people which history records.
The election of Mr. Buchanan
seemed definitely to indicate not merely the perpetuity of Human Slavery in this Republic, but the acquiescence of the people of the Free States
, or of a majority of them, in the extension of that unhappy institution.
Its opponents if not silenced, were decidedly defeated, and the Democratic Party, after a hundred previous audacities, continued to hold the Government
with something of a feeling of invincibility.
There remained, it is true, throughout the North and West, an Anti-Slavery sentiment which no misfortunes could overcome; but a considerable measure of its activity was to be found among those who abstained from political methods; while two classes of men, the one religious, and the other political, still vehemently insisted that agitation of the Slavery Question
was in itself an immorality deserving rebuke, and requiring vigorous suppression.
Of these remarkable apostles of an untimely conservatism, I may be permitted briefly to speak.
One who is outside the pale of ecclesiastical organizations, and who is not an assistant in the manoeuvering of their machinery, finds it difficult to comprehend how any confessor, in the possession of his natural mental faculties, should ever have thought it possible to reconcile Slavery with the precepts of Christianity; yet many unquestionably were left to believe that the Institution
was Divine in its origin, and that it was still authorized by the Divine sanction.
The hearts of men we may not be permitted to judge, but surely there is no law which forbids us to make a conscientious estimate of their heads; and he who, upon the strength of two or three little texts-upon the fact of the existence of Slavery among the Jews and in the Roman
Empire-upon that small portion of history which records the curse upon Canaan
, could assert, and in pulpit, newspaper, review, and volume, persist in the assertion that the Slavery of Four Millions of Men, in the Republic
of the United States
, in the year of Christianity One Thousand Eight Hundred and Fifty,--that such Slavery, utterly modern in its theory and practice, was a thing to be not merely justified, but applauded and defended in the pulpit-he, I say, who could make this large demand upon the faith of his neighbors, must have had one of those narrow and monkish natures which may be capable of a certain degree of usefulness in drilling battalions of neophytes, but which are equally incapable of lofty views or elevated aims.
If such an one happened to mix a little ethnology with his theology, he gave to the world an irresistible amalgam, which in his opinion precluded argument and paralyzed retort.
I suspect if all the literature of this kind, printed in defence of Slavery, could be gathered together, that against all natural rules, a peculiar and disagreeable smell would be noticed in the atmosphere, and that it would even be perceptible in Heaven.
I do not know that the Pro-Slavery Politician
was a whit less absurd; but he had the advantage of confining his argumentation to matters of earth and sense, and of uttering low things from a lower standpoint.
He did not “pass the flaming bounds of time and space ;” but restricting himself to the somewhat different atmosphere of Washington
, he was content to limit human progress by existing enactments, and to plead precedent against the piteous appeals of those who sued for redress in forma pauperis
. He had more than the respect of the proverb for “what-ever is
He not only believed it to be “right,” but he proclaimed it, at the top of his voice, to be immutable.
Whatever the Slaveholder asked for, he was ready to accord; and naturally the Slaveholder soon learned that he could not ask for too much.
The position of the Pro-Slavery Politician
was, although the Institution
might be hard, cruel, a breaker of hearts, a bender of bodies, and a destroyer of souls, that all this wretchedness must be carried to a sort of political profit and loss; and although Slavery had its evils, yet that it was better to endure them than to fly to others — the endurance being unfortunately the pious and patriotic perquisite of the Slave!
The matter finally settled itself down into one hard, unflinching formula — The Union must be preserved.
This was the end of controversy.
This was the limit of discussion.
This was the Alpha
of our political gospel.
This was the touchstone of legislation.
Of course, political science being thus reduced to its simplest elements, the Slaveholder having any measure at heart, needed only to cry out that, if denied, he intended to secede, to carry his point with marvelous and triumphant celerity.
was a Northern man, but although he is dead, the sad and mortifying truth must be spoken: he had so disciplined himself in this school of what may be called “unconditional surrender,” that he no more dreamed of resistance than he dreamed of resigning.
He was no better and no worse perhaps than his friends; but he had the misfortune to be their representative.
To the last moment of his administration, Mr. Buchanan
was faithful to the traditions of his party; and while the bugle call of sedition was sounding through half the Republic
— while its flag was defended by a handful of beleaguered and starving men — while the country stood aghast at the unchecked rapidity with which Treason was stalking over the land, this last, it may be hoped, of all such Democratic Presidents
, surrendered a Government which he had done nothing to save into the hands of a Republican successor.
The times of trial and endurance, of the waste and the glory of war, of painful vicissitude and final victory followed.
As the result of that extraordinary struggle, we have now, for the first time in our history, a Government which, being consistent with its avowed principles, may truly be designated as “Democratic.”
As I write these pages, I cannot sufficiently express the gratification which I feel at the enormous mass of nonsense which events have eliminated from our future political discussions.
When I began to write for The Tribune
, there was hardly a political virtue, hardly a fundamental social truth, hardly a time-honored maxim of humanity, hardly an elementary principle of justice, which we did not have to fight for as if they had been discoveries.
There was the ethnologist proving four millions of men to be monkeys.
There was the “statesman” demonstrating that the Constitution
was framed expressly to sustain Slavery.
There was the clergyman showing Human Bondage to be as necessary as Original Sin. There was the simpering novelist depicting the pastoral pleasures of the plantation, and the patriarchal felicities of the Blacks.
There was the lawyer pleading that, in certain cases, the Habeas Corpus
is good for nothing.
And under all there were crowds of prejudiced and unreasoning men of every social grade, from the highest to the lowest, who denounced every objector to this condition of affairs as a destructive and a radical, and who thought a flourishing trade with the South
worth all the morality ever propounded, from Plutarch to Dr. Paley
It would, doubtless, have been easier — I know it would often have been thought in better taste — to have taken a low and despairing view of public affairs, and sadly to have predicted the second coming of chaos.
But, partly perhaps from a constitutional habit, I was led to consider serious subjects cheerfully; although I hardly ever made a jest upon the subject of Slavery without a feeling of self-rebuke.
But it must be remembered that the gentlemen upon the other side were already in the field as mourners, and had pretty much monopolized the business of groaning.
was with them, and so was Heraclitus; and if the country was to be saved by crying, they were clearly designed to be the saviours.
They were angry often enough at finding serious subjects lightly treated, and they did not relish a style which sometimes made havoc of their dignity; but, upon the other hand, it may be said that there were those who did not at all relish their mournful methods, and who could not see that they were taking any very promising way to avert the calamities which they predicted.
But I am sure that there was not a morsel of ill-nature in the criticisms to which they were subjected.
With these considerations, this little volume is presented to the reader, with a hope also, which may be justly expressed, that he will remember the original and temporary purpose of its contents.