« AnteriorContinuar »
Lincoln were in the field, but he outstripped them far. Of the popular vote Mr.Lincoln received 1,857,610, being 500,000 majority of the second candidate, about one million of the third, and upwards of the same number of the fourth : and never did a candidate receive such a popular vote. It was the vote of a solid phalanx of earnest men, and of men who had resolved that freedom should henceforth be national, and that slavery should remain as the framers of the constitution intended that it should remain. In the Electoral College, out of 303 votes given to the 4 candidates Mr. Lincoln received 180, being more than all his competitors put together.
The election of Mr. Lincoln was the signal for pro-slavery opposition to the Union. The opposition was remarkably precipitate. The leaders of the faction were too impatient to wait the new President's assumption of office, that by deputational or similar moderate means they might ascertain the measures of the Executive in relation to slavery, but they commenced at once to promote the secession of certain states of the Union; and on the 4th February, scarcely three months after the election, and a full month before the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln, a confederacy of seven seceded States was constituted, with Jefferson Davis, President, and Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President. This was a step as unwise and inexpedient as unconstitutional and impolitic. Nor was this act of illegal secession the only opposition which the Southerners offered to the political action of the country. Separation from the Union, and the adoption of measures for the defence of their conduct, did not satisfy them, but they made war upon the Federal party. The late civil war in America was commenced by the Southerners firing upon Fort Sumpter, and on them rests the entire responsibility of that bloody four years' struggle.
The war was unjustifiable. Allowing that the platform of the election was objectionable to the Confederates, had not the nation carried it? Was it not the voice of the people? Was it not the action of the majority? But allowing the contrary, had the South a right to reverse ordinances and dissolve bonds without the concurrence of all the parties to those ordinances and bonds—without, indeed, the concurrence of the North ? Has a tenant of property a legal right to quit his tenancy when he pleases, and without a proper notice to his landlord ? Has a partner in a business firm a legal right to retire from the partnership, taking with him what part of the capital he pleases when he thinks he will, and without the concurrence of the other members of the firm ? If tenants or partners can rightfully do so, then there is an end to all order and government. The States seceding from the Union had no more legal or constitutional right to secession than the tenant of a house has a legal right to quit it without proper notice, or a partner in a firm bas a legal right to retire from the partnership without the concurrence of its members. But, again, admitting that the Secessionists had this right, had they a right to murderously attack the party seceded from? Were the Confederates justifiable in making war upon the Federals ? Surely, if the former had all right to secede, they had no right to fight the latter. In selfdefence war may be justifiable, but in this case it was not in selfdefence. The Federal Government had not commenced military hostility, either to prevent states seceding, or to regain those states that had disowned its authority. Supposing the Federal party absolutely wrong, ought not secession to have been sufficient? Because my fellow-countrymen are opposed to my views on government, and I will quit my country in disgust, am I in quitting it to murder all I can that are not of my views or do not endorse my opinions ? Hence, neither on the ground of sound philosophy nor safe government can the secession and war of the South be at all justified, or even excused. Indeed, those acts are to be strongly condemned; and, after a careful consideration of the circumstances of the case, we unreservedly state that no more wilful acts disgrace the history of any nation. The acts were unprovoked. The republican party were specially careful to give no offence to the South, and in the framing of their election platform “ took good care to repel the imputation of its political opponents, and to remove the apprehensions of the South, that the party professed to interfere with slavery in the states whose laws gave it support and protection. It expressly disavowed all authority and all wish for such interference, and declared its purpose to protect the Southern States in the free enjoyment of all their constitutional rights."
It is confessedly doubtful whether these acts would have been perpetrated but for the sanction and aid which the South received from many members of the Federal Government under the presidency of Mr. Buchanan. It is known that 150,000 muskets and vast quantities of military stores were transferred from northern armouries to southern arsenals shortly after the election of Mr. Lincoln ; that the Secretary of War, according to statements subsequently made by one of his eulogists in Virginia, “thwarted, objected, resisted, and forbade” the adoption of those measures which, according to the same authority, if carried into execution would have defeated the conspiracy, and rendered impossible the formation of a Southern Confederacy; and that the President himself, acting upon the advice of Attorney-General Black, considered that Congress had no right to carry on war against any state, either to prevent a threatened violation of the Constitution, or to enforce an acknowledgment that the Government of the United States is supreme.'
But while the election of Mr. Lincoln to the Presidency was made by some the pretext of the secession and civil war, it is well
known that the purpose of Southern Independency had been long cherished by the pro-slavery party of the Union. "The debates in the States Convention show clearly enough that the step was not taken under the impulse of resentment for any sharp and remediless wrong, nor in apprehension that any such wrong would be inflicted, but in pursuance of a settled and long-cherished purpose. In that debate Mr. Rhett said : “It is not anything produced by Mr. Lincoln's election, or by the non-execution of the Fugitive Slave Law—it is a matter which has been gathering head for thirty years. The election of Lincoln was the last straw on the back of the camel. But it was not the only one. The back was nearly broken before.”
The Independence of the Southern Confederacy, if obtained on the grounds stated by its executive, would have been an evil as monstrous as anomalous. Its constitution was utterly pro-slavery. “ The new constitution,” to quote the exact words of Vice-President Stephens," has put at rest for ever all agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution-African slavery, as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization . Its foundations (the new government) are laid ; its corner-stone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first in the history of the world; based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” A singular retrogression! All other nations abolishing the accursed Institution-some at enormous cost; the Confederates seeking by an exhaustive war to create a nation on the very same foundation. Happily, they did not succeed.
From the date of the election to the day of inauguration President Lincoln maintained silence on the critical affairs of the country. He was not unaware of the state of national affairs, but he reserved his sentiments, not from any party wantonness or from any indifference to the anxiety that pervaded the minds of men about the aspect of the political affairs of the country, but because the government was yet in the hands of Mr. Buchanan, and he, the new President, did not deem it becoming or proper for him to interfere in any way with the regular discharge of its duties and responsibilities. How deeply conscious he was of the great responsibility of his office, and of his great need of Divine assistance in order to succeed therein, may be learnt from a statement in his farewell address at Springfield: “A duty,” he said, “ devolves upon me which is, perhaps, greater than that which has devolved upon any other man since the days of Washington. He never would have succeeded except for the aid of Divine Providence, upon which he at all times relied. I feel that I cannot succeed without
the same Divine aid which sustained him, and on the same Almighty Being I place my reliance for support.” Eminently fitting this state of mind for a ruler of a great nation to enter upon the duties of his high office.
The presidential journey to the capital was, with a single exception, one scene of greeting Party spirit seemed to have been forgotten, and the cheers were always given for "Lincoln and the Constitution.” Though repeatedly making speeches, he wisely abstained
deliverance on the affairs of the country. Pressed on one occasion to give some idea of his intentions, he said, “When the time comes I shall speak, as well as I am able, for the good of the present and future of this country-for the good both of the North and the South of this country—for the good of the one and the other, and of all sections of the country.” The President's entry into Washington itself was the exception referred to. He entered privately. Preparations were made to give him a magnificent public reception, but he anticipated by twelve hours his expected arrival there. Rumours of assassination were conveyed to him at Harrisburg by a special messenger from Washington, and although he did not deviate from the programme he had marked out for himself in consequence of these communications, yet, under the advice of his friends, he deemed it prudent to anticipate by one train the time he was expected to arrive at the capitol. Subsequent investigation into the matter of these rumours shewed the wisdom of his course, for it was disclosed that a band of assassins had arranged to take away his life during his passage through Baltimore.
The inauguration took place on the 4th March, 1861. The day was beautifully fine, and the concourse of people immensely great. The address was delivered in front of the capitol, and the oath of office taken at the hands of Chief Justice Taney. The address was generally well received. In the border states its reception was in the main satisfactory. But, as a matter of course, in those states, as elsewhere throughout the South, the secession leaders gave it the most hostile construction. Its great length prevents a transcription to these pages; but could the reader peruse that remarkable document he would see that it was no purpose of the author to make war upon the South, or to promote hostilities. Certainly it does teach that while President Lincoln felt constrained by the most solemn obligations of duty to maintain the authority of the Government of the United States over all the territory within its jurisdiction, wherever that authority should be disputed, by the actual exercise of armed force, he would, nevertheless, do nothing whatever to provoke such a demonstration, and would take no step which could look like violence or offensive warfare upon the seceded states. This paper is, probably, the most remarkable document of the kind yet produced in America. The author evidently still was incredulous of the inveterate nature of the crisis, and thought to soothe the angry elements by merely disabusing the mind of the South of her misapprehensions as to the feeling at the North, and as to the future course of his administration. This tone of conciliation, kindness, dispassionate entreaty, indeed, was the ruling feature of the address.
No president of the United States ever assumed office under more critical and trying circumstances. Seven states of the Union had seceded and united in the establishment of a hostile confederacy. Under its direction nearly all the forts, arsenals, dockyards, custom-houses, &c., belonging to the United States within the limits of the seceded states had been seized, and were held by representatives of the rebel government. Officers of the army and navy from the South had resigned their commissions and entered the rebel service ; civil officers representing the United States within the limits of the Southern States could no longer discharge their functions, and all the powers of that government were practically paralyzed. But Abraham Lincoln was equal to the emergency. His course was simple, and, with a firmness which does him enduring honour, he undeviatingly pursued it from the beginning. The UNION—the preservation or restoration of the Union-was his one work. Is the Union dissolved ?--it must be restored. Is it in danger ?-—it must be defended. The Union at any cost; the Union, as he once said, either with slavery or without slavery, but the Union 1-there must be no two governments in America.
This oneness of purpose probably led some rabid abolitionists to assert that President Lincoln cared not for the abolition of slavery, and that his Emancipation Proclamation was a mere military expedient. On superficial grounds we admit his conduct is capable of such a construction, but with the full knowledge of the private sentiments of the man, and of the platform of principles to which, as president, he had solemnly committed himself, it would be seen that, consistently, he could not do otherwise than he did, and that he did all he could. Slavery was a state not a national institution, and, therefore, not under the direct control of the National Executive. Moreover, Mr. Lincoln did not take office with the avowed object of abolishing slavery. All the interference therewith that he and his party contemplated was its limitation to its then sphere of existence, and its prohibition in new territories of the Union. As a private citizen he was for the abolition of slavery on constitutional grounds; as President of the American nation he was for the limitation of slavery to its present localities. He would not interfere with it where it existed, but he would prevent its extension to new territories. Indeed, his purpose, as he announced, was to place it where the framers of the constitution had placed it in the line of decade.