Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
A Prophetic Warning
By Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard (1809–1889)
 
[An Oration delivered before the Citizens of Tuscaloosa, Ala., 4 July, 1851.]

DECREE our separation! On this unwelcome theme permit me for one moment to dwell. Permit me, before I conclude, to add one word of warning, one word of entreaty, one word of deep, earnest, most certainly patriotic, conviction. For what should we decree our separation? That the broad barrier of the Constitution, which now forms our impregnable rampart against the rabid abolitionism of England, and the no less dangerous socialism of France, may be broken down, and leave us exposed to formidable assaults upon all our boundaries, and vexatious annoyances in all our intercourse with the world? That the combined fanaticism of all Christendom may plot unmolested against our peace, may harass all our borders with marauding incursions, and instigate servile war in the very heart of our quiet land? That the obligation to respect, protect, and restore our property, which now shields our widely exposed Northern frontier—an obligation not cheerfully fulfilled, if you please, but still an obligation, and still—mark that—fulfilled, nevertheless—may be utterly swept away, to give place to a never-ceasing border war expanding at frequent intervals into general hostilities? Is it for these things that we are to decree our separation? If not, then for what other, and for what better?
  1
  What was it I heard? A foreign alliance? Did some one seem to say that Britain, in terror of her operatives, and dependent on the cotton-growing States for her only security against convulsion, would gladly receive us under the shadow of her wing? Did I hear there mark that this all-powerful mistress of the waves would eagerly seize the proffered privilege of fighting for us our battles against the North, and that a British line-of-battle ship off the harbor of Charleston would blow the revenue-cutters of the Union—aye, and the frigates too—like so many fishing smacks, out of the water? If I did not hear that language here I have heard it elsewhere. And shall we yield ourselves up to so fatal a delusion as this? Great Britain needs your cotton, you say, and therefore she will help you. And this remark you make of the grand robber of the civilized world—a nation whose career has been signalized by depredation wherever her adventurers have penetrated and wherever her flag has flown, whose cry, like that of the daughters of the horse-leech, has been everywhere, “Give, give”—a nation whose track over India and the farthest East has been marked by bloodshed, rapine and plunder, the gripe of whose covetous hand your own fathers felt at their throats, and who would now be fattening herself upon your life-blood also, but for that devoted heroism in them which we are assembled this day to commemorate. And this nation it is which you expect to give you something. Deceive not yourselves, fellow-citizens. Great Britain never gives where she has the power to take. She needs your cotton—granted. You need her manufactures—she knows it. If she must buy or perish, you must sell or starve. And which, in a contest of this kind, do you think has power to hold out the longest? Certainly not you. But suppose you have; will this bring her to your terms? You seem to imagine that if you will not willingly give her your cotton she cannot get it. Inconceivable error! You tell us that her very existence is at stake if you stop her mills. Grant this to be true, and I tell you that you cannot stop them. Instead of coming to your terms, she will force you to hers. You say she fears the rabble of her unemployed operatives. What is to prevent her turning that rabble loose upon you? Do I hear you say that you will never be wanting to the vindication of your independence and the defence of your firesides? I hope not; yet my heart sickens when I meet, at every turn, still the same trumpet-cry of conflict, still the same menace of blood!  2
  But you answer, triumphantly, England will sooner make terms than fight. War is fearfully expensive, and England totters on the verge of national bankruptcy. True—and therein lies the very hopelessness of the case. England cannot come to terms with you without fighting an enemy more formidable than you will be—the confederated States from which you will have torn yourselves away. Unfortunately the army, the navy, all the stores and munitions of war, the custom-houses of the great seaports, and, more than all, the immense superiority of numbers, will remain on the side of the confederacy. You propose that England shall become your ally in the war. Mercenary England always counts the cost, the more especially since she has no money to throw away. What is to prevent her becoming the ally of the North against you? Certainly this would be her cheapest, her surest, her most direct route to the object of her wishes. And the cotton which you expect her to buy on your terms she will force you to sell on her own. Nor will it constitute the slightest objection to such a proceeding in her eyes, that while with one hand she grasps your cotton, with the other she may liberate your slaves.  3
  These remarks may not be acceptable, but are they not true? And if they are, is it not necessary that such truths should be plainly spoken and deeply pondered? Decree our separation! If it is for this, or anything like this, that we are to be delivered from our present grievances, better, far better, is it that we
           “Bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.”
  4
  And are we to consider ourselves alone? Is nothing due to that sublime mission which has been confided to us, the propagation and universal diffusion of free principles throughout the world? Shall we esteem as of no account the prayers of the manacled thousands in other and less happy lands who are stretching out their hands to us and imploring us not to extinguish the fires upon the only altars of pure liberty beneath the arch of heaven? Is this peaceful asylum of the persecuted of all countries to be converted into a pandemonium of anarchy and carnage, where life is even less secure than in the blood-stained domains of despotism whence they have fled?  5
  Decree our separation! For any cause that has yet arisen be the thought cast out with loathing and horror! Decree our separation! While the Constitution still continues to throw over us its sheltering shield let not the suggestion dare again to intrude upon our minds! Decree our separation! God in his infinite mercy forbid!  6
 
 
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