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The cabinet.1

I quite agree with the view which my friend (Rev. M. D. Conway) takes of the present situation of the country, and of our future. I have no hope, as he has not, that the intelligent purpose of our government will ever find us a way out of this war. I think, if we find any way out of it, we are to stumble out of it by the gradual education of the people, making their own way on, a great mass, without leaders. I do not think that anything which we can call the government has any purpose to get rid of slavery. On the contrary, I think the present purpose of the government, so far as it has now a purpose, is to end the war and save slavery. I believe Mr. Lincoln is conducting this war, at present, with the purpose of saving slavery. That is his present line of policy, so far as trustworthy indications of any policy reach us. The Abolitionists are charged with a desire to make this a political war. All civil wars are necessarily political wars, -they can hardly be anything else. Mr. Lincoln is intentionally waging a political war. He knows as well as we do at this moment, as well as every man this side of a lunatic hospital knows, that, if he wants to save lives and money, the way to end this war is to strike at slavery. I do not believe that McClellan himself is mad or idiotic enough to have avoided that idea, even if he had tried to [449] do so. But General McClellan is waging a political war; so is Mr. Lincoln. When General Butler ordered the women and children to be turned out of the camps at New Orleans, and one of the colonels of the Northwest remonstrated, and hid himself in his tent, rather than witness the misery which the order occasioned,--when the slaveholders came to receive the women and children who were to be turned out of the camps, and the troops actually charged upon them with bayonets to keep them out of the line,--General Butler knew what he was doing. It was not to save rations, it was not to get rid of individuals; it was to conciliate New Orleans. It was a political move. When Mr. Lincoln, by an equivocal declaration, nullifies General Hunter, he does not do it because he doubts either the justice or the efficiency of Hunter's proclamation; he does it because he is afraid of Kentucky on the right hand, and the Daily Advertiser on the left. [Laughter.] He has not taken one step since he entered the Presidency that has been a purely military step, and he could not. A civil war can hardly be anything but a political war. That is, all civil wars are a struggle between opposite ideas, and armies are but the tools. If Mr. Lincoln believed in the North and in Liberty, he would let our army act on the principles of Liberty. He does not. He believes in the South as the most efficient and vital instrumentality at the present moment, therefore defers to it. I had a friend who went to Port Royal, went among the negro huts, and saw the pines that were growing between them shattered with shells and cannonballs. He said to the negroes, “When those balls came, were you here?” “Yes.” “Did n't you run?” “No, massa, we knew they were not meant for us.” It was a sublime, childlike faith in the justice, the providence, of the Almighty. Every Southern traitor on the other side of the Potomac can say of McClellan's cannon-ball, if he [450] ever fires one, “We know it is not meant for us.” For they know he is fighting a political war, as all of us must; the only question is, In the service of which political idea shall the war be waged,--in the service of saving the Union as it was, or the Union as it ought to be? Mr. Lincoln dare not choose between these two phrases. He is waging a war which he dare not describe, in the service of a political idea that he dare not shape into words. He is not fighting vigorously and heartily enough even to get good terms in case of a treaty,--not to talk of victory. All savages call clemency cowardice; they respect nothing but force. The Southern barbarians mistake clemency for cowardice; and every act of Lincoln, which he thinks is conciliation, they take for evidence of his cowardice, or his distrust. I do not say that McClellan is a traitor, but I say this, that if he had been a traitor from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, he could not have served the South better than he has done since he was commander-in-chief [applause]; he could not have carried on the war in more exact deference to the politics of that side of the Union. And almost the same thing may be said of Mr. Lincoln,--that if he had been a traitor, he could not have worked better to strengthen one side, and hazard the success of the other. There is more danger to-day that Washington will be taken than Richmond. Washington is besieged more truly than Richmond is. After fifteen months of war, such is the position of the strongest nation on the globe; for the nineteen Northern States, led by a government which serves their ideas, are the strongest nation on the face of the globe. Now, I think, and if I were in the Senate I should have said to the government, that every man who under the present policy loses his life in the swamps of the South, and every dollar sent there to be wasted, only prolongs a murderous and wasteful war, waged for no purpose whatever. This [451] u my meaning. In this war, mere victory on a battle. field amounts to nothing, contributes little or nothing toward ending the war. If our present policy led to decisive victories, therefore, (which it does not,) it would be worth little. The war can only be ended by annihilating that oligarchy which formed and rules the South and makes the war,--by annihilating a state of society. No social state is really annihilated, except when it is replaced by another. Our present policy neither aims to annihilate that state of things we call “the South,” made up of pride, idleness, ignorance, barbarism, theft, and murder, nor to replace it with a substitute. Such an aimless war I call wasteful and murderous. Better that that South should go to-day, than that we should prolong such a war. To keep 500,000 men in the field, we must have 560,000 men on the rolls, for there are 58,000 or 60,000 men necessarily invalid in an army of half a million; and to keep that 560,000 good, you must have a fresh recruiting every year of 123,000 men. This nation is to give, year by year, while this war lasts, 123,000 men to the army, and that number are to fall out of the ranks, according to the experience of the last sixteen months, by death either from disease or the sword; or, if not death, then wounds so serious as to make a man's life only a burden to himself and the community. A hundred and twenty-three thousand men a year, and, I suppose, a million of dollars a day, and a government without a purpose I!

You say, “Why not end the war?” We cannot. Jefferson said of slavery, “We have got the wolf by the ears; we can neither hold him nor let him go.” Thai was his figure We have now got the South--this wolf -by the ears; we must hold her; we cannot let her go, There is to be no peace on this continent, as I believe. until these thirty States are united. You and I may live to be seventy years old; we shall never see peace on this [452] continent until we see one flag from the Lakes to the Gulf, and we shall never see it until slavery is eliminated from the institutions of these States. Let the South go to-morrow, and you have not got peace. Intestine war here, border war along the line, aggression and intrigue on the part of the South She has lived with us for seventy years, and kept us constantly in turmoil. Exasperated by suffering, grown haughty by success, the moment she goes off, is such a neighbor likely to treat us any better, with our imaginary line between us, than she has treated us for seventy years while she held the sceptre? The moment we ask for terms, she counts it victory, and the war in another shape goes on. You and I are never to see peace, we are never to see the possibility of putting the army of this nation, whether it be made up of nineteen or thirty-four States, on a peace footing, until slavery is destroyed. A large army, immense expenses, a foreign party encamped among us, a despotic government, using necessarily despotic war powers,--that is the future until slavery is destroyed. As long as you keep a tortoise at the head of the government, you are digging a pit with one hand and filling it with the other. The war means digging a pit with your two hands, and filling it up with the lives of your sons and the accumulations of your fathers. Now, therefore, until this nation announces, in some form or other, that this is a war, not against Jefferson Davis, but against the system; until the whole nation indorses the resolution of the New York Chamber of Commerce, “Better every rebel die than one loyal soldier,” [applause,] and begs of the government, demands of the government, to speak that word which is victory and peace,--until we do that, we shall have no prospect of peace.

I do not believe in the government. I agree entirely with Mr. Conway. I do not believe this government — has [453] got either vigor or a purpose. It drifts with events. If Jefferson Davis is a sane man, if he is a sagacious man, and has the power to control his army, he will never let it take Washington; for he knows as well as we do, that shelling the dome of that Capitol to ashes, that the Capitol in flames or surmounted with the rebel flag, would be the fiery cross to melt the North into unity, and to demand emancipation. [Applause.] We are paying a million of dollars a day for soldiers to dig ditches in the Chickahominy swamps, but the best expense we could be put to would be to lose the marble Capitol under the shells of Beauregard; for the very telegraph that flashed the news North and West would go back laden with the demand that if, in the providence of God, Lincoln had survived the bombardment of Washington, and Hamlin was not President,--which I wish he were,--he should proclaim emancipation. Possibly that would make even him over into an Abolitionist. I do not believe that Jefferson Davis, while he is able to control his forces, will ever allow them to take Washington. He wants time. If we float on until the 4th of March, 1863, England could hardly be blamed if she did acknowledge tie South. A very fair argument could be urged, on principles of international law, that she ought to do it. The South will have gone far to prove her right to be acknowledged. She will have maintained herself two full years against such efforts as no nation ever made. Davis wants to tide over to that time, without rousing the North. He does not wish any greater successes than will just keep us where we are, and allow Europe to see the South strong, vigorous, and the North only her equal. One such move as that on Washington, and the South would kick the beam. He knows it. If any man has light enough on the future to pray God to do any particular thing, I advise him to pray for an attack on Washington and its capture, [454] for nothing less than that seems likely, within a few months, to wake up these Northern States to the present emergency. But for these considerations, I see not why Jefferson Davis should not throw all his troops upon Washington, first informing General McClellan of the proposed attack, and demanding of him enough Federal troops to protect the rebel property at Richmond during Beauregard's absence.

The President, judged by both proclamations that have followed the late confiscation act of Congress, has no mind whatever. He has not uttered a word which gives even a twilight glimpse of any antislavery purpose. He may be honest,--nobody cares whether the tortoise is honest or not; he has neither insight, nor prevision, nor decision. It is said in Washington streets that he long ago wrote a proclamation abolishing slavery in the State of Virginia, but McClellan bullied him out of it. It is said, too,what is extremely probable,--that he has more than once made up his mind to remove McClellan, and Kentucky bullied him out of it. The man who has been beaten to that pulp in sixteen months, what hope can we have of him? None. There is no ground for any expectations from this government. We are to pray for such blows as will arouse the mass of the people into systematic, matured, intelligent interference in the action of the government. When I was here a year ago, I said I thought the President needed the advice of great bodies of prominent men. That has taken a year. The New York Chamber of Commerce, the Common Council, and the Defence Committee, have just led the way. Some of the Western Councils have followed, it is said. Let us hope that they may have decisive effect at Washington; but I do not believe they will. I do not believe there is in that Cabinet — Seward, Chase, Stanton, Wells, or the President of the country — enough to make a leader. If [455] McClellan should capitulate in his swamp, if Johnston should take Washington, if Butler should be driven out of New Orleans, if those ten fabulous iron ships from England at Mobile could be turned into realities, and Palmerston acknowledge the Confederacy, I should have hope . for I do not believe these nineteen millions of people mean to be beaten; and if they do, I do not believe they can afford to be beaten. I think, when we begin to yield, the South will demand such terms as even the Boston Courier cannot get low enough to satisfy them. [Laughter and applause.] You do not know the sublime impudence and haughtiness of the tyrants of the South. You save not yet measured the terms which Jefferson Davis sill impose upon the North, when, if ever, it proposes accommodation. The return of fugitives, the suppression of antislavery discussion, monopoly of the Mississippi, surrender of some Border States,--a thousand things that would make the yoke too heavy to be borne. I never did believe in the capacity of Abraham Lincoln, but I do believe in the pride of Davis, in the vanity of the South, in the desperate determination of those fourteen States; and I believe in a sunny future, because God has driven them mad; and their madness is our safety. They will never consent to anything that the North can grant; and you must whip them, because, unless you do, they will grind you to powder.

This war is to go on. There will be drafting in three months or six. The hunker, when he is obliged to go to war, will be like the man of whom Mr. Conway told us, who was willing to sit by a negro in the cars rather than stand all night,--he will be willing that the negro shall fight, with him or without him. That is a part of the logic of events which will be very effective; but even that will not make Lincoln declare for emancipation. We shall wail one year or two, if we wait for him, before we get it. II [456] the mean time what an expense of blood and treasure each day! It is a terrible expense that democracy pays for its mode of government. If we lived in England now, if we lived in France now, a hundred men, convinced of the exigency of the moment, would carry the nation here or there. It is the royal road, short, sharp, and stern, like the 2d of December, with Napoleon's cannon enfilading every street in Paris. Democracy, when it moves, has to carry the whole people with it. The minds of nineteen millions of people are to be changed and educated. Ministers and politicians have been preaching to them that the negro will not fight, that he is a nuisance, that slavery is an ordination of God, that the North ought to bar him out with statutes. The North wakes up, its heart poisoned, its hands paralyzed with these ideas, and says to its tortoise President, “Save us, but not through the negro!” You do not yet believe in the negro. The papers are accumulating statistics to prove that the negro will work, and asking whether he will fight. If he will not fight, we are gone, that is all! If he will not work without the lash, the Union is over. If the hunker theory is correct, there can be n, peace nor union on this continent, except under the heel of a slaveholding despotism. It is not the South we have to conquer; it is the Egypt of the Southern half of Illinois; it is the Devil in the editor's chair of the Boston Courier [merriment]; it is the lump of unbaked dough, with no vitality except hatred of Charles Sumner, which sits in the editorial chair of the Daily Advertiser [applause]; it is the man who goes down to Virginia with the army, and thinks he goes there to watch the house of General Lee, and make the slaves work for him, while the master has gone to Corinth or to Richmond. These are the real enemies of the republic; and if Lincoln could be painted, as Vanity Fair once painted him, like Sinbad with the Old Man of the Sea on his shoulders, it should be [457] these conservative elements weighing down the heart and the purpose of your President that the limner should present. If we go to the bottom, it will be because we have, in the providence of God, richly deserved it. It is the pro-slavery North that is her own greatest enemy. Lincoln would act, if he believed the North wanted him to. The North, by an overwhelming majority, is ready to have him act, will indorse and support anything he does, yes, hopes he will go forward. True, it is not yet ripe enough to demand; but it is fully willing, indeed waits, for action. With chronic Whig distrust and ignorance of the people, Lincoln halts and fears. Our friend Conway has fairly painted him. He is not a genius; he is not a man like Fremont, to stamp the lava mass of the nation with an idea; he is not a man like Hunter, to coin his experience into ideas. I will tell you what he is. He is a first-rate second-rate man. [Laughter.] He is one of the best specimens of a second-rate man, and he is honestly waiting, like any other servant, for the people to come and send him on any errand they wish. In ordinary times, when the seas are calm, you can sail without a pilot,--almost any one can avoid a sunken ledge that the sun shows him on his right hand, and the reef that juts out on his left; but it is when the waves smite heaven, and the thunder-cloud makes the waters ink, that you need a pilot; and to-day the nation's bark scuds, under the tempest, lee-shore and maelstrom on each side, needing no holiday captain, but a pilot, to weather the storm. Mr. Conway thinks we are to ride on a couple of years, and get one. I doubt it. Democracy is poisoning its fangs. It is making its way among the ballot-boxes of the nation. I doubt whether our next Congress will be as good as the last. That is not saying much. I doubt whether there will be such a weight of decided Republicanism in it as there was in the last Congress. I [458] should be afraid to commit to the nation to-day the choice of a President. What we want is some stunning misfortune; what we want is a baptism of blood, to make the aching and bereaved hearts of the people cry out for Fremont, for an idea, at the head of the armies. [Applause.] Meanwhile, we must wander on in the desert, wasteful murderers. Every life lost in that swamp is murder by the Cabinet at Washington. Every dollar spent is stolen from the honest toil of the North, to pamper the conceited pride of the South in her own institution. Whose fault? Largely ours,--not wholly Lincoln's. He is as good as the average North, but not a leader, which is what we need. In yonder grove, July after July, in years just past, the Whigs of this Commonwealth lavished their money to fire guns once every minute to smother the speeches that were made on our platform. You remember it. The sons of those men are dying in the South because their fathers smothered the message which, heeded, might have saved this terrible lesson to the nation. [Sensation.] Who shall say that God is not holding to their lips the cup which they poisoned? That Massachusetts is to be made over again, and, under competent leaders, hurled as a thunderbolt against the rebellion. We are not to shrink from the idea that this is a political war: it must be. But its politics is a profound faith in God and the people, in justice and liberty, as the eternal safety of nations as well as of men. [Applause.] It is of that Lincoln should make his politics, planting the corner-stone of the new Union in the equality of every man before the law, and justice to all races. [Renewed applause.] If military necessity did not call for a million of blacks in the army, civil necessity would dictate it. Slavery, instead of being a dreaded perplexity, something we are to wail over, is a God-given weapon, a glorious opportunity, a sword rough-ground by God, and ready every moment for our use. The nation, [459] the most stupid in it,--all but the traitors,--know and confess that to abolish it would end the rebellion. Thus, therefore, God gives us knowledge, keeps for us the weapon; all we need ask for is courage to use it. I say, therefore, as Mr. Conway did, cease believing in the Cabinet; there is nothing there for you. Pray God that, before he abandons this nation, he will deign to humble it by one blow that shall make it spring to its feet, and use the strength it has. Beseech him to put despair into the hearts of the Cabinet. If we are ever called to see another President of the United States on horseback flying from his Capital, waste no tears! He will return to that Capital on the arms of a million of adult negroes, the sure basis of a Union which will never be broken. [Applause.]

I like some of the signs of the times. I like the resolutions of the New York Chamber of Commerce. I like the article from Wilkes's Spirit of the Times, bidding us criticise McClellan, and no longer believe that Napoleons are made of mud. [Laughter.] I think the two poles of popular influence have been struck; the young men, the sporting men, the fast men, the dissipated men, the New York Herald's constituency, and the commercial class, the merchants and bankers of the great metropolis. The thirty thousand copies of Wilkes which are circulated every week have a mighty influence. When its readers begin to believe that McClellan is made of mud, it is a bright sign. Do not look to the Capital. We did think there was something in Stanton; there may be; but he is overslaughed, he is eclipsed, he has gone into retirement behind Seward. The policy which prevails at Washington is to do nothing, and wait for events. I asked the lawyers of Illinois, who had practised law with Mr. Lincoln for twenty years, “Is he a man of decision, is he a man who can say no?” They all said: “If you had gone to the Illinois bar, and selected the man least capable of saying no, it would have been [460] Abraham Lincoln. He has no stiffness in him.” I said to the bankers and the directors of railroads in Chicago, “Is McClellan a man who can say no?” and they said: “Banks we had only a few months; we don't think much of him; but to every question you asked, he would say yes or no in sixty minutes. McClellan never answered a question while he was here. If there was one to be decided, he floated until events decided it. He was here months, and never decided a single question that came up in the management of the Illinois Central.” These are the men we have put at the head of the Union, and for fourteen months they have been unable to say yes or no. But that is the fault of the nation. We should have been five hundred millions of dollars richer, and sixty-three thousand lives more populous, if even Banks had been Commander-in-Chief instead of McClellan. [Applause.] I do not believe that Banks knows how to handle an army, as we all know he has no ideas, but I believe he would have pressed that army on and against something, and that is all it needed. I had a private letter from a captain in McClellan's army in the Peninsula, in which he said: “We have had five chances to enter Richmond; we might have done it after Yorktown, after Williamsburg, and after Seven Pines, just as well as not; no troops in front of us, we ourselves in full condition for an advance. Instead of that, we sat down and dug.”

The most serious charge I have against the President, the only thing that makes a film upon his honesty,--for I believe him as honest as the measure of his intellect and circumstances of his life allow,--is this: that, while I do not believe that in his heart he trusts McClellan a whit more than I do, from fear of the Border States and Northern conservatism he keeps him at the head of the army, which loses two thousand men by disease every week, and spends from sixty to seventy thousand dollars a day; and [461] if, twenty years hence, he renders up an account of his stewardship to his country, you that live, mark me I will see him confess that this whole winter he never believed in McClellan's ability. That is the sore spot in the character of an otherwise honest officer, and that is where this fear of conservatism sends him. Mr. Wickliffe of Kentucky and Mr. Davis of Kentucky put their feet down and say, “Do this, and the Border States leave you.” There is not a Republican at the North who will be allowed to say it. Governor Andrew lisped it once, in his letter to Secretary Stanton, and how few, except the Abolitionists, dared to stand by him, even in Massachusetts! There is no public opinion that would support Mr. Sumner, with a loyal Commonwealth behind him, in making such a speech, once in the winter, as Garrett Davis made every day, with a Commonwealth behind him which has to be held in the Union by the fear of Northern bayonets. It is because Conservatism is bold and Republicanism is coward [ “Hear!” ] that Abraham Lincoln has to stand where he does to-day. There will be no mystery if this nation goes to pieces. It will be God punishing it according to the measure of its sins. Ten years ago the Whig party could have educated it, and so postponed or averted this convulsion. It was left to pass on in its career, and the South finds it divided in sentiment, servile in purpose; our soldiers the servants of rebels; our officers, with shoulder-straps, on the soil of a rebellious State like Virginia, more sycophantic to the slaveholder who comes to their camp, than Webster was in the Senate when Clay threatened him with the lash of Southern insolence, fifteen years ago. If this rebellion cannot shake the North out of her servility, God will keep her in constant agitation until he does shake us into a self-respecting, courageous people, fit to govern ourselves. [Applause.] This war will last just long enough to make [462] us over into men, and when it has done this, we shall conquer with as much ease as the lion takes the tiniest animal in his gripe. If Mr. Lincoln could only be wakened to the idea which Mr. Conway has expressed, that God gives him the thunderbolt of slavery with which to crush the rebellion; that there was never a rebellion arranged by Providence to be put down so easily, so completely, so beneficially as this; that, unlike the aristocracy of France and England, rooting itself underneath the whole surface of society, slavery almost makes good the prayer of the Roman tyrant, “Would that the people had one neck, and I could cut it!” --if Mr. Lincoln could only understand this, victory would be easy. God has massed up slavery into three hundred thousand hands. He has marked it by the black color, so that the most ignorant cannot err, so that the blindest shall see enough to strike at this central figure which holds the life-blood of the rebellion. [Applause.] Let us do our duty, and feel, however long the war, however fatal and disastrous the experience, that we have left no stone unturned, no word unspoken, which can save a mighty nation from the greatest sufferings God ever inflicted on an age. My friend says he would say to the tyrants of the Old World, “Come on!” That is a fearful taunt. The collision of two such nations as the England of this side the Atlantic, and the England of the other, would shake the globe. No such war has been known since Christ. Half of all the old wars massed into one would not equal it. We should sweep the commerce of the mightiest commercial nation from the ocean. We should send starvation into Lancashire and Lyons, and she would make our coast a desolation, and send anguish into millions of homes. The ingenuity of one race divided into two nations, which has reached an almost superhuman acuteness, would be all poured into the channel of the [463] bloodiest war; and behind it would be the Saxon determination, which, like that of the bull-dog, its type, will die in the death-grapple before it yields. Old national hate, fresh-edged and perpetuated,--untold wealth destroyed,--millions of lives lost, lives of the most cultivated nations,--the progress of the race stopped,--chaos come again over the fairest portion of Christendom,--fifty millions of people, dealing such death-blows across the Atlantic in the nineteenth century,--it is a burden which we are to pray God he will not call upon us to bear, *--a curse from which he will graciously save civilization and the race. On the contrary, let us hope that Southern success may be so rapid and abundant, that a blow like that which stuns the drunkard into sobriety may stun our Cabinet into vigor, and that nineteen millions of people, putting forth their real strength in the right direction, may keep peace outside our borders until we make peace within. [Loud applause.]

1 speech at Abington, in the grove, August 1, 1862.

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