The Writings of Carl Schurz/The Treason of Slavery



I have led you through this . . . summary of our social and political history for the purpose of showing that our present struggle is the natural outgrowth of an antagonism of which we find the germs in the first organization of American society. I have shown, also, that the aristocratic element, after having identified itself with the system of slavery, acted upon the command of its necessities. Its principal crime consisted at the beginning, and consists to-day, in its identifying itself with slavery instead of yielding to the democratic principles upon which a healthy National organization could be founded. But remaining faithful to slavery, it was impelled by the irresistible power of logic, from step to step, until at last it landed in the domain of high treason. Finding slavery endangered by public opinion, it was natural that it should shut itself up against that dangerous influence. But being yoked together in a common National organization with the threatening influence of the expansive democratic element, it was natural that it should endeavor to control or suppress it by all the expedients of corruption and intimidation. But failing in this finally, and still insisting upon the perpetuation of slavery, it was natural that it should try to shut itself up more effectually—to isolate itself completely, by breaking up the National organization which held it under an influence so dangerous to its existence. Thus slavery, impelled by its necessities from step to step, was the real, the natural traitor against the American nationality, and the Southern people are only the victims of its inevitable treason. But if slavery, the enemy of American nationality, could not act otherwise without giving itself up, how are you to act, the defenders of American nationality?

The answer would seem to every unprejudiced mind as plain as the question. Still, strange as it may appear at first sight, there is a difference of opinion. Only three lines of policy suggest themselves. The most fertile ingenuity could not invent any beyond these three. Either we must permit the slave aristocracy to isolate itself territorially as well as politically—that is, we must consent to the breaking up of the American nationality; or secondly, we must preserve our Union and nationality by striking down its enemies in arms and by extinguishing the social and political agency which in its nature is disloyal and anti-National; or, thirdly, we must invite the slave aristocracy back into the National organization, offering to it that supreme and absolute control of our National concerns without which it cannot insure its permanency in the Union.

On the first proposition the people have already pronounced their judgment. To accept it was impossible. The question has been discussed thousands of times; and every enlightened mind, every true American heart, has always arrived at the same conclusion. Considerations of policy, National existence, safety, liberty, civilization, peace, all lead to the same result. The old cry, “The Union must and shall be preserved!” is not a mere watchword of party. It is the instinctive outcry of the deepest convictions, of the immovable religious faith of the American mind. This conviction, this faith, is proclaimed by the thunder of our artillery; it is confirmed by our victories; it is sealed with the blood of the people. This question is no longer open to discussion.

But the conflict between the two other propositions is the real point at issue in our present controversy. Our opponents may speak of tyranny, but the violence of their own denunciations gives the lie to their own assertions. It is dust thrown into the eyes of a deluded multitude. They may no longer have the courage to say that they are for slavery; they are still base enough to say that they are not against it. All their tirades and declamations hang loosely around this sentiment. The true issue, divested of all its incidental questions, is this: A nation ruled by the slave-power, or a nation governing itself. For the first, they are ready to imperil victory and peace and union; for the second, we are ready to destroy slavery forever.

The second line of policy before mentioned has been consistently acted upon by the party holding the reins of government during the struggle. On some occasion President Lincoln uttered the following words: “I am not controlling events, but events control me.” These words, applicable of course only to the leading measures of policy, have been denounced and ridiculed as a confession of weakness; I see in them a sign of a just understanding of his situation. Revolutionary developments are never governed by the preconceived plans of individuals. Individuals may understand them, and shape their course accordingly; they may aid in their execution and facilitate their progress; they may fix their results in the form of permanent laws and institutions—but individuals will never be able to determine their character by their own conceptions. Every such attempt will prove abortive, and lead to violent reactions. A policy which is so controlled by the spirit of the times, and is based upon a just appreciation of circumstances, may, perhaps, not be very brilliant, but it will be safe, and above all, eminently democratic. And I venture to suggest that a great many of those who indulge in the highest sounding figures of speech as to what great things they would do, if they had the power, would hardly be capable of conceiving so wise an idea as that which the President expressed in language so simple and so modest.

And thus the Government has steadily followed the voice of events—slowly, indeed, but never retracing a step. Slowly, did I say? We are apt to forget the ordinary relations of time, at a moment when the struggle of a century is compressing itself into the narrow compass of days and hours. What was to be done, and what was done, is plain. I showed you how, after the establishment of the first colonies, the democratic spirit natural to new organizations failed to absorb the aristocratic element, on account of the introduction of slavery. I showed you how the philosophy of the eighteenth century, and the lofty spirit of the Revolutionary period, failed in gradually abolishing slavery in consequence of an economic innovation. Those two great opportunities were lost; the full bearing of the question was not understood. But now the slave-power itself has made us understand it. Now, at last, slavery has risen in arms against our nationality. It has defied us, for our own salvation, to destroy it. Slavery itself, with its defiance, has put the weapon into our hands, and in obedience to the command of events the Government of the Republic has at last struck the blow. Treason has defied us, obliged us to strike it, and we have struck it on the head. The Government has not controlled events, but, resolutely following their control, proclaimed the emancipation of the slave. Mr. Lincoln was not the originator of the decree, he was the recorder of it. The executors are the people in arms.

But the opponents of the Government say by this act the war was diverted from its original object; that it was commenced for the restoration of the Union only, but was made a war for the abolition of slavery. It will not be difficult to show the shallowness of this subterfuge of bad consciences. Those who read history understandingly will know that revolutionary movements run in a certain determined direction; that the point from which they start may be ascertained, but that you cannot tell beforehand how far they will go. The extent of their progress depends upon the strength of the opposition they meet; if the opposition is weak and short, the revolution will stop short also; but if the opposition is strong and stubborn, the movement will roll on until every opposing element in its path is trodden down and crushed.

I invite our opponents to look back upon the war of the Revolution. Was the Revolution commenced for the achievement of independence from Great Britain? No; it was commenced in opposition to the arbitrary acts of the British Government; it was commenced for the redress of specified grievances, and in vindication of colonial rights and liberties. Far-reaching minds may have foreseen the ultimate development, but it is well known that some of the most energetic Revolutionary characters disclaimed most emphatically all intention to make the colonies independent not long before independence was actually declared. And how did they come to divert the Revolutionary War from its original object? The process was simple. They permitted themselves to be controlled by events. In the course of the struggle they came to the conclusion that the rights and liberties of the colonies would not be secure as long as the British Government had the power to enforce arbitrary measures in this country; they saw that British dominion was incompatible with American liberty. Then independence was declared. It was decreed by the logic of events; it was recorded by Jefferson; it was enforced by Washington.

This was the way in which a struggle for a mere redress of grievances was “perverted” into a struggle for the abolition of British dominion. Is there anybody, to-day, bold enough to assert that this perversion was illegitimate? Let us return to the crisis in which we are engaged.

We went into the war for the purpose of maintaining the Union, and preserving our nationality. Although it was the slave-power which had attempted to break up the Union, we did, at first, not touch slavery in defending the Union. No, with a scrupulousness of very doubtful merit, slavery was protected by many of our leaders—especially one of them, who at that time held the highest military command, made it a particular object not to hurt slavery while fighting against the rebellious slaveholder, and he exhausted all the resources of his statesmanship for that purpose. It is true he exhausted, at the same time, the patience of the people.

That statesmanship threatened to exhaust all our military and financial resources; but if, indeed, it did threaten to exhaust the resources of the rebellion, the threat was very gentle. You remember the results of that period of kid-glove policy, which the South found so very gentlemanly: reverse after reverse; popular discontent rising to despondency; ruin staring us in the face. The war threatened, indeed, to become a failure; and if the resolution of the Chicago Convention, which declared the war a failure, had special reference to the period when the distinguished candidate of the Democratic party was general-in-chief, then, it must be confessed, the Chicago Convention showed a certain degree of judgment.

Gradually it became clear to every candid mind that slavery, untouched, constituted the strength of the rebellion; but that slavery, touched, would constitute its weakness. The negro tilled its fields, and fed its armies; the negro carried its baggage and dug its trenches; and the same negro was longing for the day when he would be permitted to fight for the Union, instead of being forced to work for the rebellion. To oblige him to work for the rebellion, instead of permitting him to fight for the Union, would have been more than folly—it would have been a crime against the Nation. To give him his freedom, then, was an act of justice not only to him, but to the American Republic.

If the rebellious slave-power had submitted, after the first six months of the war, it is possible that slavery might have had another lease of life. But its resistance being vigorous and stubborn, and not only that, its resistance being crowned with success, it became a question of life or death—the death of the Nation, or the death of slavery. Then the Government chose. It chose the life of the Nation by the death of slavery; and the revolution rolled over the treasonable institution, and crushed it wherever it found it.

Could an act which undermined the strength of the enemy, and in the same measure added to our own—could that be called diverting the war from its original purpose? Was not the object of the war to restore the Union? How then could we refrain from using for our purposes an element which was certain to contribute most powerfully to that end? Was it not the object of the war to make the Union permanent by restoring loyalty to the Union? But by what means in the world can loyalty be restored, if it is not by crushing out the element which breeds disloyalty and treason as its natural offspring?

But if it is the opinion of our opponents that it was the original object of the war to lay the North helpless at the feet of the South, then it must be admitted the war is now much perverted from its original object.

The matter stands clear in the light of experience. Every man who professes to be for the Union, and shows any tenderness for an agency which is bound to destroy the Union, has in his heart a dark corner into which the spirit of true loyalty has not yet penetrated. And on the other hand, every man, whatever his previous opinions may have been, as soon as he throws his whole heart into the struggle for the Union, throws at the same time his whole heart into the struggle against slavery.

Look at some of the brightest names which the history of this period will hand down to posterity; your own Daniel S. Dickinson, Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts, the venerable Breckenridge of Kentucky, the brave An drew Johnson of Tennessee and many thousands of brave spirits of less note. You cannot say that they were abolitionists; but they are honestly for the death of slavery, because they are honestly for the life of the Nation.

Emancipation would have been declared in this war, even if there had not been a single abolitionist in America before the war. The measure followed as naturally, as necessarily, upon the first threatening successes of the rebellion, as a clap of thunder follows upon a flash of lightning. Nay, if there had been a lifelong pro-slavery man in the Presidential chair, but a Union man of a true heart and a clear head—such a man as will lay his hand to the plow without looking back—he would, after the first year of the rebellion, have stretched out his hand to William Lloyd Garrison, and would have said to him, “Thou art my man.” Listening to the voice of reason, duty, conscience, he would have torn the inveterate prejudice from his heart, and with an eager hand he would have signed the death-warrant of the treacherous idol.

And you speak of diverting the war from its legitimate object! As in the war of the Revolution no true patriot shrank back from the conclusion that colonial rights and liberties could not be permanently secured, but by the abolition of British dominion, so in our times no true Union man can shrink back from the equally imperative conclusion that the permanency of the Union cannot be secured, but by the abolition of its arch-enemy—which is slavery. The Declaration of Independence was no more the natural, logical and legitimate consequence of the struggle for colonial rights and liberties than the emancipation proclamation is the natural, logical and legitimate consequence of our struggle for the Union. The emancipation proclamation is the true sister of the Declaration of Independence; it is the supplementary act; it is the Declaration of Independence translated from universal principle into universal fact. And the two great state papers will stand in the history of this country as the proudest monuments not only of American statesmanship, American spirit and American virtue, but also of the earnestness and good faith of the American heart. The fourth of July, 1776, will shine with tenfold luster, for its glory is at last completed by the first of January, 1863.

Thus the same logic of things which had driven the naturally disloyal slave aristocracy to attempt the destruction of the Union, impelled the earnest defenders of the Union to destroy slavery.

Still, we are told that the emancipation proclamation had an injurious effect upon the conduct of the war. This may sound supremely ridiculous at this moment, but it seems there is nothing too ridiculous for the leaders of the opposition to assert, and nothing too ridiculous for their followers to believe. Still let us hear them. They say that the anti-slavery policy of the Government divided the North and united the South. And who were these patriots who so clamorously complained of the divisions in the North? They were the same men who divided.

I will tell them what the anti-slavery policy of the Government did do.

It furnished a welcome pretext for those in the North whose loyalty was shaky, and it permanently attached to our colors four millions of hearts in the South whose loyalty was sound. It brought every man down to his true level. It made the negro a fighting patriot, and it made the pro-slavery peace Democrat a skulking Tory. It added two hundred thousand black soldiers to our armies, and it increases their number daily.

I wish to call your special attention to this point. I will not discuss the soldierly qualities of the negro. Although on many bloody fields he has proved them, and although I consider a black man fighting for his own and our liberty far superior, as a soldier, to a white man who dodges a fight against slavery, yet, for argument's sake, I am willing to suppose that the negro soldier is best to be used as a garrison and guard soldier on our immense lines of railroads, in fortified places and posts. This, not even our opponents will deny. But do they not see that, in using him thus, we can release so many white veterans from such duty and send them forward to the battlefield? Do they not see that only in this way it becomes possible to effect those formidable concentrations of military power, and thus to achieve those glorious results, which have made the rebellion reel and the hearts of the Northern traitors quake? Do they not see that, while it may not be the negro who beats the enemy on the battlefield, it is more than doubtful whether, without the negro reinforcements, we could hurl such strength against the enemy as makes victory sure? No wonder that there are opposed to the negro soldiers those whose cheeks grew pale when they heard of the taking of Atlanta, and of Sheridan whirling the rebels out of the Valley of Virginia.

The emancipation proclamation, I say, added two hundred thousand black soldiers to our armies, and it may indeed have kept some white ones away, who merely wanted an excuse for not going anyhow. They say a white soldier cannot fight by the side of the negro. I know of white soldiers who were very glad to see the negro fight by their side. Ask our brave men at Petersburg, along the Mississippi and on the Southern coast. Their cheers, when they saw the black columns dash upon the works of the enemy, did not sound like indignant protest against the companionship. But those dainty folks who raise the objection as a point of honor will, I candidly believe, indeed not fight by the side of the negro, for they are just the men who will not fight at all.

The emancipation proclamation and the enlistment of negroes had an injurious effect upon the war! and because the emancipation decree had an injurious effect upon the war, the war is a “failure”! Indeed, it looks much like it! The peace Democrats may call a man who undoubtedly is high authority with them, they may call Jefferson Davis himself upon the stand as a witness, to say what he thinks of this failure; they may call for the professional opinions of Lee, Johnston, Hood and Early, and I am willing to abide by it. Attorneys Grant, Sherman, Sheridan and Farragut have already entered their pleas in the case, and, methinks, the judicial bench of history is about to pronounce the final verdict. And when that verdict is out, the genius of justice will rejoice that the power of the slave aristocracy could be beaten down in spite of the united efforts and of the exhaustion of all its resources, and that the cause of liberty and Union could triumph without the support of those whose hearts were divided between God and mammon. Yes, freedom will at one blow have conquered the whole force of its adversaries—those that were in arms against it as open enemies, and those that imperiled its success as uncertain friends.

But the emancipation proclamation did us still another service. It is well known that at the beginning of the war not only the sympathies of the most powerful European Governments were against us, but that the sympathies of European nations were doubtful. Our armies were beaten, our prospects looked hopeless and to the current running against us we had to offer no counterpoise. The nations of Europe looked across the ocean with anxious eyes, and asked: “Will not now, at last, the great blow be struck against the most hideous abomination of this age? Are they so in love with it that they will not even destroy it to save themselves?” For you must know every enlightened European is a natural anti-slavery man. His heart, although burdened with so many loads, has not been corrupted by the foul touch of that institution, which seems to demoralize everything that breathes its atmosphere. And when they saw, to their utter astonishment and disgust, that at first slavery was not touched, their hearts sunk within them, and they began to explain the reverses we suffered by the moral weakness of our cause.

At last the emancipation proclamation came. A shout of triumph went up from every liberty-loving heart. Once more the friends of freedom in each hemisphere joined in a common sympathy. Once more the cause of the American people became the cause of liberty the world over. Once more our struggle was identified with the noblest aspirations of the human race. Once more our reverses found a response of sorrow in the great heart of mankind, and our victories aroused a jubilant acclaim which rolled around the globe. Do you remember the touching address of the working men of Manchester? While the instincts of despotism everywhere conspired against us, while the aristocracy of Great Britain covered us with their sneering contempt, while the laboring men in England began to suffer by the stopping of the cotton supply, and the nobility and the princes of industry told them that their misery was our fault, the great heart of the poor man rose in its magnificence, and the English laborer stretched his hard hand across the Atlantic to grasp that of our President and he said: All hail, Liberator! Although want and misery may knock at my doors, mind it not. I may suffer, but be you firm! Let the slave be free, let the dignity of human nature be vindicated, let universal liberty triumph! All hail, American people! we are your brothers!

And this sympathy did not remain a mere idle exchange of friendly feelings. That sympathy controlled public opinion in Europe, and that public opinion held in check the secret desires of unfriendly Governments. Mason and Slidell slink from antechamber to antechamber like two ticket-of-leave men, and they find written above every door the inscription: “No slavery here!” No Government would dare to recognize the slaveholding Confederacy without loading itself down with the contempt and curses of the people. The irresistible moral power of a great and good cause has achieved for us victories abroad no less signal than the victories our arms have achieved for us at home. Our arms will lay the enemies of the Nation helpless at our feet, but Emancipation has pressed the heart of the world to our hearts.

But our opponents are not moved by all this. They come with their last pitiable quibble, and I beg your pardon for answering that also. They say: “Your emancipation proclamation was nothing but wind after all. The proclamation did not effect the emancipation of the slaves.” It is true, slavery is not abolished by the proclamation alone, just as little as by the mere Declaration of Independence the British armies were driven away and the independence of the colonies established. But that declaration was made good forever by the taking of Yorktown, and I feel safe in predicting that our proclamation will be made as good forever by the taking of Richmond. But there is one point at which all parallel with the Revolution fails. If in those times a person had proposed to make an anti-independence man commander-in-chief, he would have been put into the madhouse, while in our days those are running around loose who seriously try to persuade the people to make an anti-emancipation man President of the United States.

Yes, incredible as it may seem to all who are not initiated into the mysteries of American politics, the idea is seriously entertained to carry out that third line of policy of which I spoke before—to invite the slave-power back into the National organization, offering to it that supreme and absolute control of our National concerns without which it cannot insure its permanency in the Union, and, adroitly enough, this program has been condensed into a single euphonious sentence which is well apt to serve as the campaign cry of a party. It is this: The Union must be restored “as it was.”

We are frequently cautioned against visionaries in politics, because with their extravagant schemes they are apt to lead people into dangerous and costly experiments. But the visionaries in innovations are harmless compared with the visionaries who set their hearts upon restoring what is definitively gone, and has become morally impossible; for while the former may find it difficult to make people believe in the practicability of their novel ideas, the latter not rarely succeed in persuading the multitude that what had been may be again. Such a visionary was Napoleon, who planned the restoration of the empire of Charlemagne; he flooded Europe with blood, and failed. But the restoration of the empire of Charlemagne was mere child's play in comparison with the restoration of the Union “as it was,” and a task far more difficult than that to which the genius of old Napoleon succumbed is by a discriminating fate wisely set apart for our “young Napoleon” to perform. We are, indeed, assured by his friends that he will again exhaust all the resources of his statesmanship for that purpose. This statesmanship is indeed very obliging. It can hardly have recovered from its first exhaustion, and now it tells us kindly that it is ready to exhaust itself once more. It would be uncivil to accept the sacrifice. We will take the good-will for the deed and dispense with it. Still, I consider it an evidence of appreciative judgment on the part of his friends to have selected just that candidate for a task which can be performed only in his characteristic manner; setting out with a grand flourish of promises and coming back with a grander flourish of apologies.

Restore the Union “as it was”! Did you ever hear of a great war that left a country in the same condition in which it had found it? Did you ever hear of a great revolution which left the political and social relations of the contending parties as they had been before the struggle? And there are visionaries who believe that relations which rested upon mutual confidence can be restored when that confidence has been drowned in a sea of blood. Do you really think you can ever restore the confidence “as it was” between two companions, one of whom has been detected in an attempt to rob and murder the other in his sleep? By no process of reasoning can you prove—nay, not even in the wildest flights of your imagination can you conceive the possibility that the relations between a dominant and an enslaved race can be placed upon the ancient footing, when two hundred thousand men of the enslaved race have been in arms against their masters, and in arms, too, at the call of the supreme authority of the Republic. You cannot leave them such as they are; you cannot permit them even to remember that they have fought for us as well as for themselves, without following up the events which made them what they are, to the full consummation of the freedom of the race. And, on the other hand, you cannot keep the race in bondage without reducing those who are now fighting for their own and our freedom to their former state of subjection; and you can not do this without inaugurating the most sweeping, the most violent and bloody reaction against justice and liberty the world ever witnessed. And you cannot provoke that reaction without provoking another revolution on its heels. And now you speak of restoring the Union “as it was”!

Such things have been tried before, and we find the consequences on the records of history. England had her restoration of the Stuart dynasty, and it led to the revolution of 1688. France had her restoration of the Bourbon dynasty, and it led to the revolution of 1830. And why these revolutions? Because the Stuarts tried a reaction against the principles sealed with English blood at Naseby; because the Bourbons tried a reaction against the principles sealed with French blood at the Bastile, and on a hundred battlefields. Might not America profit by the example? You think you can restore the cotton dynasty without provoking reaction and another revolution?

But for our opponents, it seems, history has no intelligible voice. We have only to shake hands with the rebels, and the past is blotted out. We have only to act as if nothing had happened, and all will be as it was before something did happen. This is their promise. I appeal to the people. If your leaders promised you to revive all those fallen in battle, and to gather up the blood spilt on so many fields, and to infuse it into the veins of the resurrected, the presumption upon your credulity could not be more extravagant. Are you so devoid of pride, are you so completely without self-respect, as to permit so gross an imposition to be presented to you, as if you were capable of being trapped by it? Will you suffer them to insult your understanding, and to stamp you as incorrigible fools, with impunity? This, indeed, is one of the cases in which we do not know what to admire most—the towering impudence of the imposters, or the unfathomable stupidity of the victims. Let those who go into the open trap of the jugglers glory in the reputation of the folly. But a man of sense cannot permit himself to be gulled by so transparent an absurdity without despising himself. I call upon you to vindicate the fair fame of the Americans, as an intelligent people!

But it would be unfair to presume that those who raised the artful cry have merely done so for the purpose of setting a trap for political idiots. There is really something which they do want to restore, and there they are in earnest. They really do mean to revive one feature of the old Union; not that fidelity to the eternal principles of justice and liberty, which in the early times of this Republic was the admiration of mankind, but another thing, which has become an object of disgust to every patriotic heart, and has succeeded in creating doubts in the practicability of democratic institutions. I have spoken of the demoralizing principle: “To the victors belong the spoils”; and how, during the most disgraceful period of our history, victory with the spoils could only be obtained by abject subserviency to the slave aristocracy. And now what they mean to restore is slavery to its former power. Again the South is to be a unit for the interests of slavery; again the united Southern vote, with a few Northern States, is to command our elections; again the knife of secession is to be flourished over the head of the Nation; again our legislators and the people are to be terrorized with the cry: “Do what our Southern brethren want you to do, or they will dissolve the Union once more!” and the terrors of the past are to be used as a powerful means of intimidation for the future. Again this great Nation is to be swayed not by reason but by fear; and again the interests and the virtue of the people are to be traded away for public plunder. And so they stand before the rebels as humble suppliants with this ignominious appeal: “We are tired of being our own masters; come back and rule us! We are tired of our manhood; come back and degrade us! We do [not] feel well in a Union firmly established; come back and threaten us! We are eager once more to sell out the liberties and honor of the people for the sweets of public plunder; come, oh! come back and corrupt us!”

And in this disgraceful supplication they call upon a great and noble people to join them; to join after deeds and sacrifices so heroic, after a struggle for the Nation's free and great future, so glorious; to join at a moment when at last victory crowns our helmets, and when the day of peace, bright and warm, dawns upon our dark and bloody field. Ah, if it could be, if the Nation could so basely forget her great past, and her greater future; if the Nation could so wantonly denude herself of all self-respect and shame and decency, and plunge into the mire of this most foul prostitution; if this could be, then, indeed, betrayed mankind could not hate us with a resentment too deep; all future generations could not despise us with a contempt too scorching; there would be no outrage on the dignity of human nature in the annals of the world for which this base surrender would not furnish a full apology. If it could be so, then every one of your great battles would be nothing but a mass-murder of the first degree; the war with its ruin and desolation would have been nothing but an act of wanton barbarism. Then be silent of your glorious exploits, you soldiers in the field; conceal your scars and mangled limbs, you wounded heroes:; you mothers and wives and sisters, who wear your mourning with pride, hide your heads in shame—for the triumphant rebel sits upon the graves of our dead victories, whip in hand, and with a mocking grin laughs at the dastardly self-degradation of his conquerors.

It is difficult to speak about this with calmness; yet we must make the effort.

This, then, is our situation: We have to choose between two lines of policy, represented by two parties—the one fully appreciating the tendency of the movement, and resolutely following the call of the times; fully and honestly determined to achieve the great object of preserving the Nation, and with consistent energy using every means necessary for that purpose; striking the rebellion by crippling the strength of the traitors, and restoring loyalty by stopping the source of treason; a party, not infallible indeed, but inspired by the noblest impulses of the human heart, and impelled by the dearest interests of humanity; in full harmony with the moral laws of the universe, in warm sympathy with the humane and progressive spirit of our age. Let its policy be judged by its fruits; the heart of mankind beating for our cause; the once down-trodden and degraded doing inestimable service for our liberty as well as their own; the armies of the Union sweeping like a whirlwind over rebeldom, and the rebellion crumbling to pieces wherever we touch it. Would it be wise to abandon a course of policy, which, aside of our moral satisfaction, has given us such material guarantees of our success? And what inducement is offered to us for leaving it? Is it a policy still clearer and more satisfactory to our moral nature? Is its success still more certain, a result still more glorious? Let us see what they present us?

A party which does not dare to advance a single clear and positive principle upon which it proposes to act; a party which gives us nothing but a vague assurance of its fidelity to the Union coupled with the proposition of stopping the war, which alone can lead to the restoration of the Union; giving us a platform which its candidate does not dare to stand upon, and a candidate who quietly submits to the assertions of his supporters that he will be obliged to stand on the platform; a party which was waiting two months for a policy, and then found its policy upset by events two days after it had been declared; a party floundering like a drunken man between a treacherous peace and a faithful war, between disunion that shall not be and a kind of union that cannot be; a party which is like a ship without compass and rudder, with a captain who declares that he will not do what he is hired to do, with a set of officers who swear that he shall do it, with a crew who were enticed on board by false pretences, and who are kept by the vague impression that there is some thing good in the kitchen, and that vessel bound for a port which does not exist on the map. Is not this picture true in every touch?

And why all this wild confusion of ideas and cross purposes? Why all these ridiculous absurdities in its propositions? Simply because that party refuses to stand upon the clear and irrevocable developments of history, and denies the stern reality of accomplished facts; because it repudiates the great and inexorable laws by which human events are governed; because it shuts its eyes against the manifest signs of the times; because, while pretending to save the Union, it protects the Union's sworn enemy; because it deems it consistent with loyalty to keep alive the mother of treason; in one word, because it insists upon saving slavery in spite of its suicidal crime. And to this most detestable monomania it is ready to subordinate every other principle, every other interest, every other consideration of policy. To save slavery it throws all imaginable impediments in the way of every measure of the Government directed against the main strength of the rebellion; to save slavery it would rather have seen our armies doomed to defeat by weakness than strengthened for victory by the colored element; to save slavery it would rather have seen foreign Governments interfere in favor of the rebellion than the heart of man kind attached to our cause by the glorious decree of liberty; to save slavery it insists upon interrupting the magnificent course of our victories by a cessation of hostilities, which would save the rebellion from speedy and certain ruin; to save slavery it is ready to sacrifice the manhood of the people, and to lay them at the feet of the rebel aristocracy as humble suppliants for an ignominious rule. And this rank madness you would think of placing at the helm of affairs in a crisis which will decide our future forever?

I invite those of our opponents whose heads and hearts are not irretrievably wrapt in self-deception, to mount with me for a moment a higher watch-tower than that of party. Look once more up and down the broad avenues of your history. Show me your men in the first great days of the Republic whose names shine with untarnished luster, the men whom you parade in the foremost ranks when you boast before the world abroad of your Nation's greatness; there is no one of them who did not rack his brain to find a way in which the Republic could be delivered of the incubus of slavery. But their endeavors were in vain. The masses of the people did not see the greatness of the danger; their eyes were blinded by the seductive shine of momentary advantages. Then at once began one of those great laws by which human affairs right themselves, to operate. It is the law that a great abuse, urged on by its necessities, must render itself insupportable and defy destruction. Slavery grew up under your fostering care; with its dimensions grew its necessities. It asked for security at home, and what it asked was given. It asked for its share in what we held in common; and what it asked was given. It asked for the lion's share, and accompanied its demand with a threat, and what it asked was given. Then it asked all that we held in common. It asked for a dictatorship, and the accompanying threat became a defiance. The people of the North rose up and said: “So far and no farther!” Then slavery, with fatal madness, raised its arm against the palladium which cannot be touched with impunity; it urged into our hands the sword of self-defence; with blind insolence it threw into the face of the Nation the final challenge: “Kill me or I will kill thee!” The challenge could not be declined; the Nation refused to be killed, and slavery had the full benefit of its defiance. Do you not see that this decree of self-destruction was written by a hand mightier than that of mortal man?

And you will stand up against it? What are you about to do? Stop and consider! Slavery is dying fast. Its life is ebbing out of a thousand mortal wounds. Even its nearest friends in rebeldom are standing around its death bed in utter despair; even they give it up. Hardly anything remains to be done but to close its eyelids, and to write the coroner's verdict: “Slavery having challenged the American Nation to mortal combat, killed itself by running madly into the sword of its antagonist.” There it lies. And you—you would revive it? What? That you should have served it when it was in the fulness of its power, that, with a violent stretch of charity, we may understand, although it revolted our hearts. But to revive it when it is dying! To think of galvanizing into new life the hideous carcass whose vitality is being extinguished by the hand of fate! To attempt to fasten anew and artificially upon the Nation a curse of which for a century she longed in vain to be rid, and which at last is being wiped out by the great process of providential retribution! To resuscitate and nurse to new power of mischief the traitress that fell in an attempt to assassinate the Republic! Revive slavery in the midst of the nineteenth century!

Have you considered the enormity of the undertaking! Look around you! You see a great Republic purified of her blackest stain, which sent a blush of shame to her cheeks when the world abroad pointed to it; you see the heart of a noble people relieved of the galling burden of wrong and guilt; you see the nations of the world stretching out to us their brotherly hands and cheering us on with their inspiriting acclamations; from the downtrodden and degraded on earth to the very angels in heaven you hear all good and generous hearts join in swelling chorus of gratitude and joy, for at last the great iniquity is tumbling down—and now strike heaven and earth in the face and revive it? Now poison the future of the Republic again, now imperil the life of the Nation again and revive it? Are you in earnest? Here we stand before an atrocity so appalling that we seek in vain for a parallel on the darkest pages of history; we search in vain the darkest corners of the human heart to find a motive or reason that might excuse a crime so ridiculous for its folly, a folly so disgraceful for its wickedness.

But, thank God, it is impossible! You think you can stem the irresistible current of events with your contrivances of political legerdemain, with your peace-cry, which is treason, and your war-cry, which is fraud; with your hypocritical protests against a tyranny which does not exist, and your artful imposition of a “Union as it was,” and cannot again be! With these pigmy weapons you think you can avert the sweep of gigantic forces! Poor schemers, you might as well try to bring a railroad train, running at full speed, back to its starting-point, by butting your little heads against the locomotive. You might as well try to catch in your arms the falling waters of the Niagara in the midst of the cataract, to carry them back to their source. In vain you sacrifice your honor for what is infamous. In vain you jeopardize the life of the Nation for what is dead! The doom of your cause is written in the stars. If you love yourselves, and want to secure the respect of your children, then, I beseech you, leave the scandalous and hopeless task to the ignorant and brainless, who may show as an excuse for the mad attempt, the weakness of their minds; and to those hardened villains who have become as insensible to the secret lash of conscience as to the open contempt of mankind. But if you will not, then happy those of you whose names will sink into utter oblivion, for only they will escape the ignominious distinction of becoming a mark for the detestation of posterity.

Revive slavery in the midst of the nineteenth century! And you dare to hope that the American people will aid in this crazy attempt? In this crime against justice, liberty and civilization? In this treason against future generations? You dare to expect the American Nation to commit suicide that slavery may live? Poor man, desist! You are undone. You do not seem to know that he must fail who appeals to the cowardice of the American people. Step out of the way of the Nation who marches with firm step and a proud heart after the martial drum beat of her destiny. She feels that the struggle of ages compresses itself into the portentous crisis of this hour. It is for coming centuries she fights; and already she sees before her what was once only a patriotic dream rise into magnificent, sunlit reality! Liberty! Liberty and Union! one and inseparable! now and forever!

  1. Speech delivered at the Academy of Music, Brooklyn, Oct. 7, 1864.