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Section Eighth: the war of the Rebellion.


The first shot into Fort Sumter was the signal-gun of the greatest and the strangest war ever waged on earth.

That shot was thrown to the feet of Liberty in defiance. It was intended to inaugurate a life-or-death struggle between Slavery and Freedom. It (lid its work; and the cannon which threw it will live longer in history than the torch of the wretch who burned the Ephesian Temple.

Again, and on a higher stage, the struggle was to come, to test the vital forces of Civilization and Barbarism,—of Progress and Retrogression,—of Order and Anarchy,— of Life or Death, for men and communities, for society and governments. Above all was it a final grapple between the Past whose dead had buried its own dead, and the Future which was to give life to all.

Something like this had been witnessed during the [346] many thousand years of deadly strife the human race had been going through, in approaching Liberty as the road to God,—the shrine where all nations are yet to worship.

The records of human defeats, sufferings, and triumphs, show little more than the heroism of the true and the good, in resisting the false and the bad.


It seems to be the will of Heaven that nations must work out their own salvation as nations. The final Court of Appeals, to which even the uneducated conscience points its indexing finger, will judge the individual, not the community.

When nations pass away, they never return. We survey their wrecks stranded on the shore of time, merely to read some commentaries on their history,— their rise and development, their decline and fall. But civilization, which means progression towards the just, the great, the safe and sublime, was the law God instituted for Society.

Great thoughts never die. They go among the eternal archives of human hope and security, to which the treasures of successive ages are committed.

In the literature and arts of the ancients, we have most of the finest thoughts of the finest minds,—the chief records of the noblest deeds of the noblest men. And thus the torch of light is safely transmitted from age to age.

All its effulgence was shed over us from the hour our country was born. We had inherited all the earth could give us, with the fairest and broadest field for its [347] use and development. The Creator had looked on us benignantly, as our fathers sailed for a new home beyond the sea to find a resting-place for earth's children.

Thus high did Heaven seem to fix its purpose on North America,—thus sublimely did our founders comprehend the fact.


Our history had been more wonderful than the dreams of Oriental fancy. All the images of wealth, prosperity, and power that had ever thrilled the brain-pulses of the most ideal disciple of Plato, vanished into thin air before the form of Young American Liberty, rising from this fresh continent, proclaiming to the race freedom, order, and happiness for all. No such treasure had before been committed to men. When He spread this festival, He asked all nations to come. Hardly a day went by, but some winged messenger came from the Old World, freighted with hearts that were weary, seeking a new roof-tree,—with muscles that were over-strained by the unpaid toil of Europe; but all ready to carry out the dreams of personal, manly, ennobling social life.

The best minds and the warmest hearts on the other side of the water understood America. They knew our history, and they burned with enthusiasm to mix their fortunes up with our earlier settlers.

They did; and even this tide of national disaster hardly arrested their corning. They were arriving still; and they found fertile soil and free institutions for their free possession, till at last all Europe and Asia will together rejoice in the triumph of the thoughts and desires of the brave and humane men who constructed our system of civic life.



And thus we went on till 1860, pressing our free course to wealth without limit, to prosperity beyond our own comprehension, and to happiness so complete that we forgot the source of it all,—when we made the dreadful discovery for the first time, that our career was arrested for a while, if not forever. We were not going too fast; we were only on the wrong road. We were rushing madly from the sphere where our Maker had placed us, and He laid His great hand on His own work, when suddenly thirty millions of people, under one government, stood paralyzed on the brink of ruin.

We had allowed Slavery to become the law of the land. We had dethroned the Liberty we had boasted of, and enthroned the Dagon of Human Servitude in its place. We had prostituted to the basest purpose the great gift bestowed on us so lavishly; and in the merciless greed for gain, when we already had a thousand times more than we could use, we ran riot into every form of luxury and licentiousness which could tempt the appetite, exalt the pride, or inflame the ambition of our people.

Religion, with all its sublime traditions, and all its holy allurements to the better life we could lead, had lost much of its magic power over the great masses— over the young and the old, except the few who were mercifully removed from the great whirlpool of the heated life we were living; for the rest all clutched like birds of prey for the nearest carrion; and we ‘jumped the life to come.’



In the midst of our National Belshazzar-Feast, of pride, voluptuousness, and enchantment, the shot at Fort Sumter fell like a bolt of lightning. It struck the hearts of the revellers, and we began to take our eyes from the dust and turn them up to heaven.

By one wave of that wand which never waves twice to do its work, the handwriting was written on all the walls, and the Palace of our greatness was sinking to ashes. The Republic was at stake. We had played, and we had lost!

We had attempted an impossibility. We had tried to make Liberty and Slavery live together on the same soil.

While the free North was prospering, we had allowed the enslaved to be immolated. While we could flourish under the fragrant branches of Liberty's tree; we were manuring the roots of the Upas, whose branches were spreading over our Northern communities, our homes, our hearts. Its subtle and deadly poison had already struck through the veins and arteries, and approached the springs of life.

For a moment we were like a traveler arrested in the speed of his journey, with a fevered pulse and difficult breathing. The discovery did not come all at once; nor did the nation feel it deeply enough for a long time, to be ready to recover. To Europe it looked like the beginning of our national end—an irrevocable leap to ruin.

Was it death? or was it fever with delirium?

It was both!

The only question, after two years of struggle, which [350] blotted out all the puny strifes of other empires, was whether there was a resurrection and a redeemed life for the great Republic of the world.



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