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The charge of Precipitancy.

The London Times says: “Though civil war is the most frightful of all wars, the Americans plunged into it with less concern than would have been shown by any European State in adopting a diplomatic quarrel.” In this little gem of malicious generalization, there is a lurking fallacy which divests the thunder of all its terrors; and which proves that a newspaper may be sufficiently pompous and at the same time insufficiently philosophical. “The Americans” --one would like to inquire civilly what this newspaper means by “Americans.” Who “plunged” first--the United States or the Confederacy? Or did both plunge simultaneously? Can a man who finds a thief in his chamber, and who jumps quickly from his bed, be charged with immoral “plunging?” Were the measures of the Buchanan dynasty justly answerable to the censure of over-velocity? Did we not diplomatize? debate? hold conventions and propose compromises? Was not this continued long after the Charleston batteries rendered the reinforcement of Gen. Anderson impossible? It is shameful to libel us in this way. No people ever shrunk from a war as we have shrunk from this. The seceding States, by the very act of secession, closed the door of adjustment [178] in our face. The Convention of South Carolina passed the Ordinance of Secession on the 20th of December, 1860, at fifteen minutes past one o'clock in the afternoon; and since that day and hour there has not been a moment when that State would, nay, when she consistently could, diplomatize. It is true that she sent her commissioners to Washington afterward; but she sent them as the representatives of an independent State. Then, indeed, we were not precipitate enough. We contented ourselves with declining to receive this absurd commission, but we did not send its members instantly to prison, as we should have done, and as any other government would have done. Imagine three Irishmen arriving at St. James's with information that an Irish Republic had been established, of which they were the accredited representatives, charged with proposals for the dismemberment of the British Empire! They would be locked up as lunatics, or worse; while we permitted men whose errand was a studied insult to our sovereignty, to depart in peace. Was there any “plunge” here? If so, it was a very mild one.

The attitude of South Carolina from the first was a declaration of war. The act which consummated her treason afforded no basis of reconciliation. It contained just eighty-two words. It was a naked defiance of the United States; and could no more be explained away than a blow can be explained away among men of honor. It was a conclusion of the pleadings, and an offer of the ordeal of battle. Northern men who had squandered their political fortunes [179] in the service of the South wept, persuaded, dissuaded and exhorted. There was flux of fine speech — an avalanche of propositions! At all this South Carolina laughed, as, to be candid, she had a right to laugh. Of the wisdom or good taste of these appeals, we say nothing; but we do say that they were made; and that the public mind of the North was at one time in a condition which caused those who while they loved peace well, loved honor better, to tremble. Who, then, can fairly say that we “plunged” into this contest with unconcern?

But we committed, it seems, another offense. South Carolina merely indulged in treason — our crime was leze-majesty against taste. Our newspapers “heaped every conceivable opprobrium upon Southerners.” We did not sufficiently bate our breath. We did not softly enough whisper our humbleness. It was found that, Shylocks as we were, there was a lower depth of concession into which money could not tempt us. To tell the truth, we were a little afraid of the sarcasms of our European critics, and we shrunk from the insolent leading-articles wherewithal, if we had been false to truth and honor, The Times would have regaled us. We thought that in the presence of such crimes, indignation was a virtue. Our catalogue of past grievances was a long one, and when the culmination of them came, a people accustomed to no censorship of speech, uttered its convictions with a rude energy which offended none but trimmers. To our credit be it said, we were a little out of patience, It was South Carolina that half murdered our Senators [180] in the Capitol; it was South Carolina that rifled mailbags, impressed our sailors, banished our citizens, and always stood ready to defy the general Government. We only lost our equanimity when a State which for nearly a century had been receiving our bounty with one hand and smiting us with the other, abandoned even the forms and shows of loyalty, and placed herself in an attitude of unmistakable high treason. We were called upon to taste the bitter fruit of our latitudinarian policy — of our compromises and concessions — of patched — up peace and hollow truces. Then, we admit, we did not measure our words. We were in a condition too perilous for politeness of parlance. We became plain and downright, and called a spade a spade. It may have been wrong, but for all that it was very human.

But this ready Jesuit of the London press having done the North all the mischief of which insin-ated censure is capable, smilingly adds: “We consider that the course of events in the United States has been perfectly natural, and that Americans have only done what Englishmen or any other people, under the same conditions, would have done also.” The world is wide; intelligence crowds; the size of newspapers is limited; and one is at a loss to consider, why a leading metropolitan journal should waste so much space in proving that Americans have acted as any other people under the same conditions would have acted. If in the management of our affairs we have not fallen below the standard of human intelligence, but on the other hand have done the precise thing which we [181] were compelled to do, then we are at liberty to fall back upon the merits of the original question, and to demand of foreign nations a rigid and unswerving neutrality. Governments are not to be conducted by any infallible laws of success and failure; it is enough for all the purposes of international comity if we, in the midst of our many distractions, approximate to what is just and prudent. The right intention and the resolute endeavor should secure the respect if not the alliance of every Christian nation.

September 8, 1861.

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