Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1821–1834
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vol. V: Literature of the Republic, Part II., 1821–1834
 
The Union
By Edward Everett (1794–1865)
 
[The Causes and Conduct of the Civil War. 1861.—From Orations and Speeches by Edward Everett. 1850–68.]

IF the South has been willing, without the shadow of a practical grievance, living under a government which the Vice-President of the Confederacy pronounced last November the most beneficent ever known, of which she has herself almost monopolized the administration, and of which the judicial and legislative departments were still within her control, to plunge into the gulf of this unholy war, when, in the name of Heaven, and on what terms, shall we ever live in peace? Do you say we can make treaties with each other as independent States? But are treaties more binding than constitutions? ratifications more sacred than oaths of allegiance? The grievance on which the South most dwells is that the North, in pursuance of a policy inaugurated by Mr. Jefferson in 1784, and sanctioned by every Southern statesman till the last ten years, claims the right, on the part of the general government, to exclude slavery from the free territory of the United States. Does she think that, when the Southern Confederacy is established, the free States will consent to the extension of slavery (even if it were physically or economically possible, which it is not) north of the Missouri line, which she recklessly repealed in 1854? No, not if the venerable Chief Justice should live to the age of Methuselah, and pronounce a Dred Scott decision every year of his life. She now complains that the rendition of slaves is obstructed; does she think if secession prospers, that a single fugitive will ever again be surrendered from the North? No, not if she pursued with all the hosts of Pharaoh, unless she waited on the banks of the Potomac till it ran dry. The South is irritated by the indiscriminate denunciations of the Northern platform and the Northern pulpit; will they be silenced when, for the sake of forcing slavery into the Territories, she has broken up the Union, and brought upon the country the horrors of an internecine war? In a word, will not every provocation which has led to the present struggle continue to exist in tenfold force, if it should end in separation, and when, to all the existing causes of dissension which have brought on the present conflict, shall be added the indignant memory of recent sufferings, the hereditary hates to be engendered, hostile tariffs, wholesale smuggling, ruinous confiscations of property on both sides, a general exodus of slaves, the perpetual recurrence of attempts like that of John Brown, and all the thousand causes of war which will unavoidably arise, in the absence of the mediating umpirage of the Federal Constitution?
  1
  Look at other countries; interrogate history; listen to the wisdom of ages. The journalists and statesmen and novelists of England are assuring us (no doubt from the most disinterested motives), that the rupture of the Union would be the best thing in the world for us. Did England think that the disintegrating of great states was beneficial when India rebelled, when Ireland rebelled, when Scotland rebelled? Why does she not try the experiment of bringing back the Octarchy? Spain once contained within her limits seven or eight independent kingdoms; would it promote the welfare of the country, if Castile and Aragon and Granada and Leon and the Asturias should again set up for themselves? The civilized world has clapped its hands at the union of the different governments of Italy, under one national head. Do the sages of Montgomery and Richmond really think it would be better if they should tell Victor Emmanuel and Garibaldi to go about their business, and let Tuscany and the Two Sicilies, and Sardinia and Lombardy, in the favorite Southern formula, “retain each its sovereignty, freedom, and independence?” Germany broke up in the Middle Ages into three hundred and odd sovereign principalities. Do the wise men of the South, in the execrable jargon of secession, recommend to the mediortized princes to plant themselves on their reserved rights, and reassert their independence? Is it not enough to move the pity of men and angels, that, in the middle of an enlightened century, in a land so favored as ours by Providence, with everything that can promote the welfare of a people, men should be found not merely so insensible to their own blessings, and so recreant to the memory of our fathers, the sages of the constitutional, the heroes of the Revolutionary age, but so deaf to the teachings of all history, so blind to the examples of all countries, so regardless to the experience of all ages, as to believe that the happiness and peace of a family of kindred States can be promoted by the rupture of the Union that binds them together, and resolving them into rival, jealous, and hostile powers?  2
  Deadly grave as this delusion is, its absurdity borders on the ludicrous. There is, I am aware, no end to human credulity. There are men who believe in the philosopher’s stone, in perpetual motion, in squaring the circle, and in marble-top centre-tables dancing hornpipes. A flying-machine was exhibited by subscription a few years ago on Boston Common. Captain Symmes, one of the pioneers of settlement in Ohio, and his numerous followers, were persuaded that the earth is as hollow as a gourd, and that you can sail into the interior as easily as a Down-East coaster can sail into Holmes’s Hole. Brigham Young believes that you can found a prosperous community, in this country and in the nineteenth century, on the basis of the most abominable corruptions of the old despotisms of Asia; but that any man, not a maniac nor a lunatic, can seriously believe that the paths of prosperity in a country like ours can lead through the bloody gates of treason and rebellion, that anarchy and chaos can conduce to the growth of a family of republics, and an internecine secular war among ourselves give us strength and well-being at home or influence abroad, is almost enough to make one despair of virtue, freedom, and reason, and take refuge in blind chance, brute force, and stolid scepticism.  3
 
 
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