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Book II:—secession.

Chapter 1:


BEFORE exhibiting the American Republic divided into two hostile factions, and describing the organization of the forces that were about to fight on its soil to secure the supremacy either of the slave institutions of the South or the free society of the North, it is proper that we should answer the questions which every reader must ask: How could such a war break out? What radical causes could thus divide a great nation throughout the whole extent of her territory, disrupt her armies, and put arms in the hands of citizens whom so many ties, so many interests, and so many common memories should keep united?

They were brethren; they had lived together and had been reared in the same school; they resembled each other in all the prominent traits of their character; they had the same political institutions, the same military traditions. Their leaders had served under the same flag, and had sat in the same council-chambers.

There did not exist any real difference of origin between the North and the South. All those that the South alleged to exist when, despairing of her ability to extort aid from Europe by threatening to deprive her of cotton, she sought to arouse the sympathies of the latter, were purely imaginary. She merely pretended to genealogical affinities to serve her own purpose, when, pointing to her old colony of New Orleans, she called herself half French; and when, turning to the English aristocracy, she evoked the memory of the Cavaliers driven out by Cromwell, in order to array that aristocracy against the Yankees, whom she [77] represented as a gathering of Germans and Irishmen. In point of fact, the Anglo-Saxon race ruled equally in the South and in the North. It rapidly absorbed the races that had preceded it, as well as those which supplied it with a contingent of emigrants. In taking part in its work, those races also adopted its customs and its character.

In the first city of the South, New Orleans, there did indeed exist a nucleus of population which by its language and associations clung to the country that had basely sold it. But that islet, already half submerged under the rising tide of another race, did not constitute a nationality. As to the Irish emigrant, far from resisting this tide, he rather followed it; for although differing widely from the Anglo-Saxon, he goes in search of a new country only where the latter is already firmly established. He resembles those plants, difficult of acclimation, which only thrive upon a soil already prepared by other and more vigorous vegetation. By another contradiction to his primitive habits, becoming in America a denizen of cities rather than a tiller of the soil, the barriers which slavery had raised against the settling of husbandmen did not exist for him. Consequently, the Irish element had spread equally over the South and over the North. With that pliability of mind peculiar to the race, Irishmen adopted all the prejudices of those among whom they lived; and when the war broke out, they were seen to enlist in the cities of the South, where they were very numerous, with as much eagerness as their brethren living in the North displayed in defence of the Federal flag.

No commercial interest separated the South from the aggregate interests of the Northern States. Large rivers formed a single basin of all the centre of the continent, and all its products converged into the main artery of the Mississippi, of which the Southern States held the lower course. Exclusively occupied with the culture of cotton and sugar-cane, they asked from the Western States meat and flour, which they could not produce in sufficient quantities for their own consumption. The North supplied them with the necessary capital for all their industrial enterprises. It is true that the South sought in these very circumstances a pretext for a new grief, by pretending to be the victim of speculation [78] on the part of those who brought her, together with their wealth, the means of fertilizing her soil; and when the day of secession came, all the debts contracted by the merchants and planters of the South toward Northern creditors, amounting, it is said, to one billion of dollars, were repudiated, after the Confederate government had tried in vain to confiscate them to its own benefit. But this complaint, which is that of all countries in arrears against their more prosperous neighbors, cannot affect any serious mind. The complaints of Southern planters against the Northern States in regard to the protective tariffs, which favored the manufactures of the latter, were more plausible; but, in point of fact, they had no better foundation, for the Morrill tariff, the highest that the United States ever had, became a law under the administration of Mr. Buchanan, when the President and Congress were devoted to the interests of the South; and if they allowed that measure to pass, which they could have prevented, it is because they did not consider it dangerous to those interests. If the commercial question had had anything to do with the political struggle which brought on the civil war, the Western States would have had as much cause as those of the South to separate themselves from the manufacturing districts of New York, Pennsylvania, and New England, whose foundries and mills dread English competition, and they would have joined the South in defence of the system of free trade. The landholders of the West, in fact, also derived their wealth from the cultivation of the soil, the products of which were yearly exported in increasing quantities. In spite of the scarcity of labor, the absence of land taxes, together with the cheapness and fertility of the land, afforded an outlet for their wheat to all the markets of the world. Commercial protection, therefore, which raised the price of all European commodities for the benefit of their associates of the North—eastern States, was only a burden to them; and if, while complaining of this protection, they made common cause with those States, it is because they fully understood the sole motive of the war, and did not in any way deceive themselves as to the only social difference which divided America into two hostile factions-North and South.

This difference was not occasioned either by diversity of origin or by antagonistic commercial interests. It had a much deeper [79] foundation. It was a ditch dug between slavery and free labor, which was becoming wider every day. It was slavery, prosperous in one half of the republic and abolished in the other, which had created in it two hostile communities. It had greatly modified the customs of the one where it was in the ascendant, while leaving the outward forms of government intact. It was, indeed, not the pretext nor the occasion, but the sole cause of that antagonism, the inevitable consequence of which was the civil war.

Therefore, in order to demonstrate the differences of character which the war revealed between the combatants, we must show the constant and fatal influence which the servile institution exercised over the habits, the ideas, and the tastes of those who lived in contact with it. Proteus-like, the question of slavery assumes every variety of form; it insinuates itself everywhere, and always reappears most formidable where one least expects to encounter it. Notwithstanding all that has been said on the subject, our people, who fortunately have not had to wrestle with it, are not aware how much this subtle poison instils itself into the very marrow of society. It was, in fact, in the name of the rights of the oppressed race that they condemned slavery. It was the sentiment of justice in behalf of this race which inspired religions England when, in response to the appeals of Buxton and Wilberforce, she proclaimed emancipation; and which actuated our great National Assembly when it abolished slavery for the first time in our colonies, and those who again prepared for its suppression after the extraordinary act by which the First Consul re-established it upon French soil. It was the picture of the unmerited sufferings of our fellow-beings which stirred up the whole of Europe at the perusal of that romance, so simple and yet so eloquent, called Uncle Tom's Cabin.

But the effects of the servile institution upon the dominant race present a spectacle not less sad and instructive to the historian and philosopher; for a fatal demoralization is the just punishment that slavery inflicts upon those who expect to find nothing in it but profit and power.

In order to demonstrate more clearly to what extent this demoralization is the inevitable consequence of slavery, and how, by an inexorable logic, the simple fact of the enslavement of the [80] black corrupts, among the whites, the ideas and morals which are the very foundation of society, we will pass over the long martyrdom of bad treatment daily inflicted by brutal masters upon their slaves. It is among those who before the war were called good slave-owners that we must inquire into the pretended moral perfection of slavery, in order to understand all its flagrant immorality. This slave-owner possesses the same principles as ourselves, but he is obliged to obey the laws of necessity. He knows what protection and respect are due to the family tie; but as the negro population in the United States, employed in the cultivation of the cotton and sugar, does not multiply fast enough to supply the exigencies of this kind of labor, he goes into the markets of Virginia to procure a contingent of young laborers. After having thus torn them from their relatives, their affections, and the land of their birth, he will certainly not break up the new ties that are forming under his own eyes; but this is owing to the fact that, as an economical manager, he finds in their fecundity a direct source of revenue. He does not desire to humiliate, to cause suffering by unnecessary castigations, but the negro who fails to perform his duties must be punished, and these duties are obedience and labor. The negro must forget that he is a man —to remember only that he is a slave, and to work without choice of occupation, without remuneration, without hope of a better future. In short, his owner will take care of him, will not impose any labor above his strength, and will administer to his material wants in a satisfactory manner, precisely as he will do for the animals that are working by his side under one common lash. But, in order that he may enjoy this pretended good fortune, he has to be reduced to the moral level of his fellow-slaves, and have the light of intelligence within him extinguished for ever; for if he carries that divine spark in his bosom, he will be unhappy, for he will feel that he is a slave. And when the good master, satisfied with his own virtues, points to his slaves, saying, ‘They are happy; they have no care for the morrow; they are lodged, fed, and clothed, and would not accept their freedom,’ it is the bitterest of self-accusations, for it is the same as if he said, ‘I have so completely stifled in them every feeling that God has implanted in the heart of man, that the word freedom, which we [81] might hear pronounced by every creature that has breath, if we understood all the languages of Nature, has no longer any meaning for them.’ It might so happen, in extreme cases, that even in the midst of his surroundings, his conscience rebels against this degradation of his fellow-beings, but then he will blame the customs which sanction this systematic degradation, and the severe and peculiar laws, enacted in almost all the Southern States, which render it nearly impossible for him to grant individual emancipation, and which even subject him to severe penalties if he should teach his own negroes to read and write. Shall he protest against this hateful law which confines the intelligence of the slave within the narrow dungeon of perpetual ignorance? He cannot do so, because the moral degradation of the latter is the only guarantee for his physical submission: if he were to witness too frequently the liberation of his fellow-beings from bondage as an act of favor, he would wish for it in his turn; and if he received the least education, he would rise in his own estimation, the abyss which separates him from his master would appear less difficult to cross, and he would emerge satisfied from the brutal condition in which it is necessary to keep him in order to make him the docile instrument of a lucrative traffic.

But, again, the servile institution, in violating the supreme law of humanity, which links indissolubly together those two words, labor and progress, and in making labor itself a means for brutalizing man, not only degraded the slave, but it also engendered depravity in the master; for the despotism of a whole race, like the absolute power of a single individual, or an oligarchy, always ends by disturbing the reason and the moral sense of those who have once inhaled its intoxicating fragrance. Nothing was more calculated to develop this kind of depravity than the high qualities, and the virtues even, which existed in the community founded upon such a despotism. It is precisely because that community was enlightened and religious, because it had produced men, in every other respect, of irreproachable character, because it had given birth to heroic soldiers who had followed a Lee and a Jackson to the battle-field, that it was the more revolting to see slavery, with its odious consequences, prosper in its midst. That this community should have exhibited such a shocking contrast [82] to the world without being itself conscious of the fact, the moral sense must have been perverted in the child, surrounded from its birth by flattering slaves; in the man, absolute master of the labor of his fellow-beings; in the woman, accustomed to relieve the distress around her, in obedience, not to the dictates of duty, but to a mere instinct of humanity and pity; in everybody, in short, through the exaggerations of declamatory appeals intended to stifle the voice of upright consciences. What a deeply sorrowful spectacle for any one who wishes to study human nature to see every sense of righteousness and equity so far perverted in a whole population by the force of habit, that the greatest portion of the ministers of all denominations were not ashamed to sully Christianity by a cowardly approval of slavery; and men who bought and sold their fellow-beings took up arms for the express purpose of defending this odious privilege, in the name of liberty and property!1

This falsehood having become the basis of society, its influence increased and gathered strength from prosperity. The founders of the American nation regarded slavery as a social sore, and trusted to the enlightenment and patriotism of their successors to heal it; but as this institution was productive of considerable profit, it was soon viewed in a different light. The Middle States (Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee) were ready to abolish it, in imitation of their neighbors of the North, when the suppression of the slave trade gave a new impulse to slave production among them, by protecting it against the competition of negro-traders, who formerly brought cargoes of slaves from Guinea under the name of ebony. They soon developed this new branch of industry; and the planters of the South, being always able to procure fresh and hardy laborers in their own markets, found it economical to spare their slaves no longer, but to subject them to excessive labor which wore them out in a few years. This abundance of hands giving an extraordinary impulse to the cultivation of the sugar-cane and the cotton-plant, slavery, which the authors of the American Constitution had not even dared to mention by name, was thenceforth honored, recognized, and considered as the corner-stone of the social edifice. [83]

But the upholders of slavery did not stop here; after having declared it to be profitable and necessary, they proceeded to proclaim its moral excellence. A new school, of which Calhoun was the principal apostle, the teachings of which were accepted by all the statesmen of the South, assumed the mission of holding up the social system founded upon slavery as the highest state of perfection that modern civilization had reached. It was to this system that America was destined to belong, and its adherents anticipated for it the empire of the world. There was a time when these frightful dreams cast a sinister light upon the future of the new continent, for it seemed as if their realization was within the scope of possibility.

In fact, the slave-power could only exist by enlarging its domain and absorbing everything around it. Reckless and violent in its modes of proceeding, compelling the Union to become the docile instrument of its policy, it had conquered immense territories in the interest of servitude, sometimes in the wilderness, more frequently in Mexico or among the Northern settlements, and it already extended its hand towards Cuba and the isthmus of Nicaragua—positions selected with the instinct of control. If the

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