Saturday, February 18, 2012

Signs Of The Times

You Cannot, if you Would, be Blind to the Signs of the Times.
– {President Lincoln.


From the New York Herald, May 21st.

But having disposed of General Hunter, President Lincoln proceeds to give his views on the emancipation question, in an earnest appeal and a solemn warning to the Slave States, and especially to those known as the border Slave States.  He urges them to adopt the system of compensated emancipation offered by Congress, he tells them that they ‘cannot be blind to the signs of the times’ and that he devoutly hopes that “the vast future will not have to lament” their neglect of ‘this golden opportunity.’  These are words of solemn import and the deeply interested people of the border Slave States cannot take them too soon or too seriously into practical consideration.

President Lincoln, at Washington, is in the best possible position to see how this war is operating upon slavery in the border Slave States.  To see it, he has only to look out upon Pennsylvania avenue from a window of the White House at any hour of the day, and the gangs of contrabands passing up and down from Maryland and from the rear of our advancing armies in Virginia will tell the story.  Thus the institution of slavery may be said to be already substantially removed from all those counties in which be in the rear of our Virginia armies. – But if the suppression of this rebellion shall require the continued march of our armies until they penetrate the heart of the cotton States, is it not altogether probable that this continually increasing stampede of Southern slaves will become absolutely overwhelming against this institution, and especially in the border slave states.

There can be not the shadow of a doubt that the president at all events is most solemnly impressed with the duty and the responsibilities now devolving upon the border Slave States in reference to their disturbed and demoralized institution of slavery and we submit therefore, to the immediate attention to the saving alternative of President Lincoln’s policy of voluntary, gradual and compensated emancipation.

From the N. Y. World.

It is somewhat surprising that the Border States should not have manifested more interest in the counsels of the President.  It is now two months and a half since his first paper on the subject.  It cannot be said that the prospects of slavery have improved during that time.  On the contrary, it has notoriously been losing ground. – The abolition of the system forever in the District of Columbia, the almost unanimous vote of Western Virginia in favor of emancipation, the growing restlessness of the slave population throughout the Border States, the growing likelihood that a comprehensive system of confiscation will be applied which must necessarily carry with it a very extensive liberation of slaves and an increasing chance that the Gulf States by their contumacy, even when overcome by arms may drive the Government in spite of itself to the absolute, summary destruction of the great primal cause of all the trouble, are patent facts which ought to convince the border States that delay is dangerous.  It is very easy for them to flatter themselves that somehow, events may shape themselves so that they can yet hold on to their cherished institution.  We all know how the strong wish affects the judgment.  But self deception in this matter may prove a pretty costly mistake.  If the Border States wait until their slaves become worthless, they cannot expect that the General Government will pay anything for their liberation.  They would be already liberated in fact.  When slaves have no market value the institution is at an end.  And it is very certain that if general emancipation in the cotton States were once actually fixed upon and proclaimed by the Government, the preservation of the institution in the border States would speedily become an impossibility.  The whole system would become thoroughly unsettled.  The border State slaves would be possessed with new visions of the liberty their Southern brethren were enjoying, thousands would run for the more favored parts of Dixie and those who did not would be utterly unfitted for steady work.  The masters, amid the troubles of the present and before the uncertainties of the future, would soon lose all heart, and slave property would become a profitless burden.  The slave in Baltimore or in Nashville or in Richmond, instead of rating at three hundred dollars, the present Government allowance, would not be worth fifty.  But if matters come to that pass it will be too late to expect any help whatever from the Government.  That which has merely a nominal value will never be paid for in Federal money.  If the border States choose to delay in hope that all may go well with their cherished institution, they must be content to take the chances and not complain if they finally lose it, without a dollar from the Federal treasury to lighten the sacrifice.  If they are wise, they will see themselves against all such liabilities by heeding the President’s counsels in time.

From the New York Times.

These are weighty, solemn, momentous words. – The heart out of which they flow feels all the magnitude of the issues they involve, and is equal to the grandeur of the responsibilities they imply.  It is, as Mr. Lincoln justly says, impossible for the people of the southern States to be “blind to the signs of the times.”  Consciously or unconsciously they have been brought into a contest with the National Government which involves inevitably the fate of slavery – the very existence of their social and civil institutions.  If they persist in this mad contest with a fixed and stable government having a recognized place among the civilized nations of earth representing twenty millions of people among the proudest most intelligent and most high spirited resources and only stimulated by disaster to new efforts and new conquests, they simply rush upon their own destruction.  There is no instance in history where any form of society however sanctified by time, or the affections of mankind, has survived a contest with the advancing spirit of a progressive age.  The South call us of the North fanatics but in that very fanaticism, if they were wise, they would discern the utter helplessness of the warfare they wage upon us.  It was fanaticism in England which beheaded the King and extinguished the throne, and rooted out of the English heart from the sentiments of civil affections which had grown there longest and taken deepest hold on the public mind.  It was the fanaticism of democracy which crushed all the institutions of the middle ages on the soil of France and drenched its fields in the blood of all who opposed its resistless sweep. – Suppose the people of the South once array against slavery the full fanaticism of the United States backed by the sympathy and the sentiment of the Christian world.  Can they see for themselves any other result than utter and remediless ruin?

Up to the present time the contest of the government with the rebellion which assailed its existence has been conducted with the most scrupulous regard to the rights of the South under the Constitution they are seeking to destroy. – This has not been done thoughtlessly or without a purpose.  It has been in pursuance of a plan deliberately formed by the government, and carried forward with a steady single minded disregard of all opposition  from friends and foes which may challenge universal admiration.  The President has from the beginning regarded this rebellion as a conspiracy, the work of leading selfish and wicked men who have obtained temporary control of the resources, the prejudices, the passions of the Southern people and are using them for the destruction of the Union.  He believes that, if this assumption is correct the Union can be restored whenever the military power which these leaders have marshaled on their side can be broken – and whenever the great mass of the Southern people shall come to see the falsity of the pretexts by which they have been misled.  He has based his policy therefore, on strict constitutional right – on magnanimity toward the great body of those who have been drawn into rebellion.  He has refused to countenance or tolerate any violation of their rights, any wanton trespass upon their property, any disturbance of the evils which their own acts have brought upon them.  Not a spy has yet been hung – not a deserter has yet been shot – not a traitor has yet been even tried by the national Government.  The history of the world will be sought in vain for a parallel to this magnanimous forbearance.

Clearly enough, this policy is experimental.  It is so regarded by the government.  If the people of the South are open to arguments and influences of this kind, then this is the policy by which the Union may be best restored.  It leaves behind it less of resentment, less of hatred, less of heart-burning, less of all the social passions which are least compatible with a peaceful and prosperous Union.  The government does well to give it full and effective trial.

If the experiment succeeds, Republican civilization will have achieved the noblest of all the conceivable triumphs.  The President has evinced the highest possible elevation of character, the largest and most statesmanlike sagacity, in carrying forward this experiment to its final and decisive test.  The end is close at hand.  Two more battles will end the first campaign. – If the Federal troops gain Richmond and Corinth, the military power of the Confederacy will be broken.  Its inability to maintain a de facto government against the United States will have been demonstrated, and it will then remain to be seen whether the great mass of the Southern people will accept this result as decisive, and respond to the invitation of the Federal Government to resume their position under the constitution as members of the Union or not.

Indications are not wanting that they will persist in the contest – that they will give themselves up wholly to the dominion of passion, and frenzied lust of power, and rush upon the ruin they have so much invoked.  If they do, they will find nothing standing between them and the “fanaticism” they affect to despise.  They must prepare to meet the fullness of its fury, and to perish under is burning breath.  The authority of the Government of the United States will be maintained over every foot of every Southern State, at whatever cost to those who may resist it, and if slavery stands in the way, it will be extinguished even if it be in the blood of those who make it their shield.

The people of the south have just the alternative offered them by the proclamation of President Lincoln.  If they choose to take upon themselves the task initiating their deliverance from slavery, they can have the aid of the General Government in protecting them from the evils and inconveniences which such an effort may cost. – If they refuse and persist in rebellion, they will find themselves utterly crushed under the power which they defy.

From the Boston Journal.

His appeal to the people of the border States is timely and solemn, and well will it be for them, and for all of us, if it is heeded in season.  Shall we remain “blind to the signs of the times?”  How comes it that every officer, as he engages in the active work of suppressing this rebellion on its own ground, drifts manifestly in the direction of Gen. Hunter’s conclusions, and never the other way?  Few, indeed, let us say, thankfully, reach such a radical and reckless extreme, but all (though many are themselves insensible of it) are tending, along the same route and the people are abreast of the army.  We may deplore, we may dread this sign of the times, but it is fearfully distinct in the political sky, and as wise men we should have regard to it.  The President from his high ground of observation is oppressed with the weight of the future, and is earnestly imploring the counsels of his countrymen.  His eye is single and his heart is pure, and we sincerely trust that his entreaties may not be made light of.  At this suggestion, a just and generous proposal has been made to the people of the border States, thro’ the acceptance of which, as he says, a grand and salutary change will come as gently as the dews of heaven.  If neglected the responsibility of what may happen will not rest upon him nor upon his loyal countrymen.

Washington Correspondence Forney’s Press.

It is to be hoped, however, that Mr. Lincoln’s proclamation, disavowing Gen. Hunter’s order, will at last awaken the border States to a sense of their true condition.  He disavows that order, but in doing so he brings them back to his emancipation policy and tells them that they cannot, if they would, ‘be blind to the signs of the times.’  And what are these signs of the times?  They are the indications of a wide spread change of public opinion on the subject of slavery, a change which extends to hundreds of thousands of men in the free States who have heretofore supported the South, and that has reached the hears of nearly all the Democrats in the army of the Union.  The rebels themselves contribute to swell public opinion against slavery by their inhuman barbarities, and the slaves, as if conscious that their hour is come are declaring themselves free in most of the slave states.  The border States, when they see Mr. Lincoln restraining and rebuking an officer for an order which has given the greatest encouragement to his own political friends should at least manifest such an appreciation of his course as will show that they are no longer insensible to the signs of the times.

In my letter of yesterday I anticipated the step that the President has now taken.  He owed it, probably, to consistency, and to his understanding of his own obligations, to issue this proclamation and you will perceive that, while denying the right of any officer of the army to issue such an order he reserves to himself of the exercise of all these powers.  The great question involved in the decree of Gen Hunter becomes momentous when considered apart from its mere political aspect.  Regarded as a sanitary measure it may force itself upon the Government at any moment.  Thousands of our best citizens are now enrolled in the army in the cotton States subjected to the dangers and disease of a climate to which they are unaccustomed.  In South Carolina they are surrounded by a population nearly universally disloyal.  In New Orleans they may soon become the victims of a fatal epidemic and should General Halleck defeat the rebels before Corinth, his columns will press forward into the lowlands of Mississippi and Alabama.  It is a painful fact that treason continues to flourish in the seceded States in spite of the victories of our arms.  What if in order to punish this treason and to protect the white men of the free States now in the far South the alternative of using the energies of the manumitted blacks should be presented to our civil authorities?  This remedy may be imperatively pressed upon us at any moment and I believe that when the hour comes the President will not hesitate to do his duty and in doing it his proclamation of yesterday is the best proof that he will act from the purest and most patriotic motives and that the civilized would will sustain him in taking this step.

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, May 31, 1862, p. 4

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