Thursday evening last at the Cooper Institute, New York, Carl Schurz made a speech of which we publish the material portions, and which our readers will find worthy of an attentive perusal:
Our Government may indeed suppress a rebellion by force, by an order to restore the working of the original agencies upon which it rests, it is obliged to restore the individual to his original scope of self action. If it is attempted after having suppressed a rebellion, to maintain its authority permanently by the same means by which it re-established it; that is to say, by a constant and energetic pressure of force, it would not restore the old order of things, but completely subvert its original basis; for the means by which it was obliged to suppress the rebellion are in direct contradiction to the fundamental principles of our Government. In order to restore these principles to life, the Government is obliged to trust its authority to the loyal action of the people. There is the embarrassment which a rebellion in a democratic republic will necessarily produce. What does it mean, the restoration of the Union? It means the restoration of individual liberty in all its parts, and of that ramification of political power in which self-government consists. If it meant anything else, if it meant the permanent holding in subjection of conquered provinces, if it meant the rule of force, if it meant the subversion of those principles of individual liberty which are the breath of our political life, would it then not be best to let the rebels go? Would it not be preferable to by content with the modest proportions to which the development of things has reduced us, to foster the principles and institutions which have made this people great and happy for so long a time with conscientious care, and to trust to the expansive power of liberty to restore this Republic in some more or less remote future to its former measure of greatness. And yet looking at things as they are, how can we expect to restore the Union but by the rule of force – that is to say, by a military occupation of the Rebel States? But you will tell me that this will not last long. Well, and what will determine this period? This disappearance of the rebellious spirit; the return of sincere loyalty. But when and how will the rebellious spirit cease and loyalty return? True, if this rebellion were nothing but a mere momentary whim of the popular mind, if its cause could be obliterated by one of those sudden changes in popular opinions, which, in matters of minor importance, occur so frequently with our impressible people, then a short military occupation might answer, and pass over without any serious effect upon our future development. But is it this? Look the fact square in the face. This rebellion is not a mere momentary whim, and although but few men seem to have prepared its outbreak, it is not the mere upshot of a limited conspiracy. It is a thing of long preparation; nay, more than that; it is a thing of logical development. This rebellion did not commence on the day that the secession flag was hoisted at Charleston; it commenced on the day when the Slave Power for the first time threatened to break up this Union. [Applause.] Slavery had produced an organization of society strongly in contradistinction with the principles underlying our system of Government – the absolute rule of a superior class, based upon the absolute subjection of the laboring population. This institution, continually struggling against the vital ideas of our political life, and incompatible with a free expression of public opinion, found itself placed in the alternative of absolutely ruling or perishing. Hence our long struggles, so often allayed by temporary expedients, but always renewed with increased acrimony. And as soon as the slave interests perceived that it could no longer rule inside of the Union, it attempted to cut loose and exercise its undisputed sway outside of it.
This was logical; and as long as the relation of interests and necessities remains the same, its logical consequences will remain the same also. This is not a matter of doctrine or party creed, but of history. Nobody can shut his eyes against so plain and palpable a fact. – How is it possible to mistake the origin of this struggle? I ask you in all sincerity, would the Rebellion have broken out, if Slavery had not existed? [“No, no, no.”] Did the rebellion raise its head at any place where slavery did not exist? Did it not find sympathy and support wherever Slavery did exist? [“Yes, yes, yes.”] Is anybody in arms against the Union who desires to perpetuate Slavery? What else is this rebellion but a new but logical form of the old struggle of the slave interests against the fundamental principles of our political system? Do you not indulge in the delusion that you can put an end to this struggle by a mere victory in the field. By it you may quench the physical power of the slave interest, but you cannot stifle its aspirations. The slave interest was disloyal as long as it threatened the dissolution of the Union; it will be disloyal as long as it will desire it. [Cheers.] And when will it cease to desire it? It may for a time sullenly submit to the power of the Union, but it will not enter into the harmonious cooperation with you, as long as it has aspirations of its own. – But to give up its aspirations would be to give up its existence; it will therefore not cease to aspire until it ceases to live. [Applause.] – Your president has said it once, and there is far-seeing wisdom in the expression; This country will have no rest until Slavery is put upon the course of ultimate extinction. [Great and continued applause.] But if the slave interest, as such cannot return with cordial sincerity to its allegiance, where will the suppression of this rebellion lead us? Mark my words: Not only is the South in a state of rebellion, but the whole Union is in a state of revolution. This revolution will produce one of three things: either complete submission of the whole people to the despotic demands of the Slave interest, or a radical change in our Federal institutions, that is to say, the establishment of a strong, consolidated, central Government, or such a reform of Southern society as will make loyalty to the Union its natural temper and disposition. [Cheers.] The old Union, as we have known it, is already gone; you can restore it geographically – yes; but politically and morally, never. [Applause.] – And if Jefferson Davis would come to-morrow and give up his sword to President Lincoln, and all the Rebel armies were captured in one day, and forced to do penance in sackcloth and ashes at the foot of Capitol Hill, the old Union would not be restored. [Cheers.] That circle of ideas in which the political transactions of the old union moved is forever broken [sensation]; it cannot be restored. The mutual confidence on which the political transactions of the old Union rested has been discovered to be illusory; it is irretrievably gone. [Applause.] I repeat, either you will submit to the South, our you will rule the South by force of a strong, central Government, or the Southern society must be so reformed that the Union can safely trust itself to its loyalty. Submit to the rebellious South! Submit after a victory! – [“No, no, no.”] You will tell me that this is impossible. Is it indeed? There are those in the South who have fought and will fight the Union as long as the rebellion has a chance of success, who will apparently come over to our side as soon as our victory is decided, and who will then claim the right to control our policy. [“That’s it.”] And there are those in the North, who either actuated by party spirit or misled by shortsightedness, stand ready to co-operate with the former. [Sensation.] The attempt will be made – whether it will succeed – who knows? But if it does succeed, it will lead to new struggles [“John Brown.”] more acrimonious, dangerous and destructive in their nature, but also more radical and permanent in their result. [Cheers. “That’s it.”]
The second possibility I indicated is the establishment of a strong, consolidated, central Government. Look at the course you have taken since the outbreak of the rebellion. It was natural that when the necessity of vigorous action pressed upon us, the Government was clothed with extraordinary powers. As its duties and responsibilities increased, its hands had to be strengthened. But it might indeed have been expected that the people as well as the Government would treat with scrupulous respect those fundamental guarantees of our rights and liberties, the achievement or the preservation of which were so often in the history of the world bought at the price of bloody revolutions. Outside of this republic, and, I have no doubt, inside of it also, it was remarked with some surprise, that the writ of habeas corpus, the liberty of the press, the authority of the civil courts of justice, were in some cases rather cavalierly dealt with. How easily it is forgotten that you cannot permit another’s rights to be infringed without paving the way for a violation of our own! I do not mean to exaggerate the importance of these occurrences. I can well understand the violence of popular resentment as well as the urgent necessities pressing upon those who stood at the helm. But I most earnestly warn you that a condition of things producing such necessities must not last too long, lest it create bad habits [applause] – the habit of disregarding these fundamental rights on one side, and the habit of permitting them to be violated on the other. In my opinion the manner of treating its enemies is the true test of the tendency of a Government. It may be questionable whether we can afford to suppress a rebellion in the same way and with the same means in and with which the King of Naples was in the habit of suppressing them; but it is certain that we can not afford to imitate him in his manner of maintaining the re-established authority of the Government. [Cheers.] But now look at the task before you. I am willing to suppose that the Rebel armies will be beaten and dispersed with greater ease and facility than I at present deem it possible. Then the spirit of disloyalty must be extinguished, the source of the mischief must be stopped. This cannot be done by strategic movements and success in battle. How, then, is it to be done? Take the State of South Carolina: you beat the Rebels defending its soil and occupy the whole State with your troops. Armed resistance to the authority of the United States becomes impossible but you want to restore the active co-operation of the people of South Carolina in the Government of the United States, without which the restoration of the old order of things is impossible. Now, you either call upon the people of South Carolina to elect new State authorities of their own, or you impose upon them a Provisional Government, appointed by the President at Washington. In the first place, the people of South Carolina – a large majority of whom are disloyal, and those who are not disloyal are not loyal either [applause], and to a certain extent seem to be incorrigible – are most likely to elect a new set of Secessionists to office. It will be a re-organization of treason and conspiracy; for you must know that conspiracies do not only precede rebellions, but also follow unsuccessful ones. The new State Government is at once in conflict with the Federal authorities. The latter find themselves counteracted and clogged in every imaginable way; and after a series of unsuccessful attempts to secure a cordial and trustworthy co-operation, after a season of tiresome and fruitless wrangles, they find themselves obliged to resort to sterner measures; then forcible suppression of every combination hostile to the Union; close surveillance of press and speech; martial law where the civil tribunals are found insufficient; in one word, a steady and energetic pressure of force by which the Federal Government overrules and coerces the refractory State authorities.
You will see at once that if this pressure be not strong enough, it will not furnish the government of the United States the necessary guaranties of peace and security; and if it be strong enough to do that it will not leave to the State Government that freedom of action upon which our whole political fabric is based. Or you follow the other course I indicated – institute provisional governments by appointment from the President, in a manner similar to that in which territories are organized. Then the General Government enters into immediate relation with the people of the rebellions district. While it leaves to the people the election of the Territorial legislature, if I may call it so, it controls the action of that Legislature by the vote of the Executive, and the rulings of the Judiciary in a regular and organic way. Thus mischief may be prevented, the execution of the laws secured, and the supremacy of the General Government maintained by the Government’s own agents, until the States can be reorganized with safety to the Union. This plan may be preferable to the other, inasmuch as it will prevent the continuation of rebellions intrigues and facilities the repression and punishment of disloyal practices without a conflict with lawfully instituted authorities; but it is evident that such a condition of things cannot last long without essentially changing the nature of our general system of government. In either case it will be the rule of force, modified by circumstances, ready to respect individual rights, wherever the submission is complete, and to over rule them wherever necessity may require it. Do not say that these things are less dangerous because they are done with the assent of the majority; for the assent of the people to a consolidation of power is the first step toward subversion of liberty. [Applause.] But is indeed this Government, in struggling against rebellion, in re-establishing its authority, reduced to a policy which would nearly obliterate the line separating Democracy from Absolutism? Is it really unable to stand this test of its character? For this is the true test of the experiment. If our democratic institutions pass this crisis unimpaired, they will be stronger than ever; if not, the decline will be rapid and irredeemable. But can they pass it unimpaired? Yes. This Republic has her destiny in her hands. She may transform her greatest danger and distress into the greatest triumph of her Principles. [Cheering.] There would have been no rebellion, had there not been a despotic interest incompatible with the spirit of her democratic institutions [Cheers], and she has the glorious and inestimable privilege of suppressing this rebellion, by enlarging liberty instead of restraining it [Great cheering], by granting rights, instead of violating them. – [“Good.” Applause.]
I shall have to speak of Slavery, and I wish you would clearly understand me. I am an Anti-Slavery man. (Cheering.) All the moral impulses of my heart have made me so, and all the working of my brain has confirmed me in my faith. (Loud applause. “Hear, hear.”) I have never hesitated to plead the cause of the outraged dignity of human nature. I could not do otherwise; and whatever point of argument I might gain with any one, if I denied it, I would not deny it, I shall never deny it. (“Good, good.” Applause.) And yet, it is not my life-long creed, which would make me urge the destruction of Slavery now. As an Anti-Slavery man, I would be satisfied with the effect the course of events is already producing upon Slavery. When formerly I argued in favor of its restriction, I knew well and clearly that as soon as the supremacy of the slave-interest in our political life was destroyed, the very life of Slavery was gone, and the institution would gradually disappear. For many reasons I would have preferred this gradual and peaceful process. I never was in favor of precipitate measures, where a quiet and steady reform was within the limits of practicability. (Cheers.) But the rebellion, which placed Slavery in a direct practical antagonism with the institutions most dear to us, has prodigiously hastened this development. I said already that I do not deem another victory of Slavery over the National conscience impossible; but this reaction will produce new struggles, with passions more fierce, with resentments more acrimonious and reckless, and dangerous to our democratic institutions, and violent in nature; but as to Slavery, radical and conclusive in their results. (Applause.) This rebellion has uprooted the very foundations of the system, and Slavery is not far from its death. – (Cheers.) It will die, and if you would, you could not prevent it. (Applause.) And thus, as an Anti-Slavery man, I might wait and look on with equanimity. But what I do not want to see is, that Slavery, in this death struggle, should involve the best institutions that ever made a nation great and happy. It shall not entangle the Union in its downfall, and, therefore, the Union must deliver itself of this pernicious embrace.
And now listen to what I have to say of the third possible result of the revolution through which we are passing, the only result which will restore the Union, and save the spirit o fits democratic institutions. The ambition, the aspirations of men grow from the circumstances in which they live. As these circumstances change, these aspirations will take a corresponding direction. A slaveholding population wedded to the peculiar interests of their peculiar institutions, will, in their aspirations and political action, be governed by the demand of those interests. If these interests are incompatible with loyalty to a certain established form of Government, that population will be disloyal in its aspirations. Their way of thinking, their logic, their imaginations, their habits, are so effected and controlled by their circumstances, that as long as the latter remain the same, the former are not likely to change. Imagine this slaveholding population with a Union army on their soil. Their forces may be dispersed, their power paralyzed, but their former aspirations, although checked, are not eradicated. They move still in the same circle of ideas, and not only their memories of the past, but also their desires for the future, are still centered in that circle which Slavery has drawn around them. – Is not the intention and desire mother to the act? You may tell me that, however ardently they may long for a dissolution, their experience of the present Rebellion will not let the idea of attempting another rebellion spring up. Are you so sure of this? True, they will not repeat the same thing in the same way. But have you never thought of it, that this Republic may be one day involved in difficulties with foreign powers, and that, in her greatest need, the disloyalists may discover another opportunity? And have you considered what our foreign policy will be when the powers of earth know that we harbor an enemy within our limits ready to join hands with them? [Sensation.] How can you rely upon the Southern people unless they are sincerely loyal, and how can they be sincerely loyal as long as their circumstances are such as to make disloyalty the natural condition of their desires and aspirations? They cannot be faithful unless their desires and aspirations change. And how can you change them? By opening before them new prospects and a new future. [Cheering.]
Look at the other side of the picture. Imagine – and I suppose it is not treasonable to imagine such a thing – imagine Slavery were destroyed in consequence of this rebellion. – Slavery, once destroyed, can never be restored. [Applause.] A reaction in this respect is absolutely impossible, so evidently impossible that it will not even be attempted. Slavery is like an egg – once broken, it can never be repaired. [Cheering.] Even the wildest fanatic will see this. However ardent a devotee of Slavery a man be, Slavery once destroyed, he will see that it is useless to brood over a past which is definitively gone, and cannot be revived. He will find himself forced to direct his eyes towards the future. All his former hopes and aspirations vanish; his former desires are left without a tangible object. Slavery having no future, his former aspirations and desires, founded upon Slavery, have gone. He feels the necessity of accommodating himself to the new order of things, and the necessities of the present will make him think of the necessities of the future. Insensibly his mind drifts into plans and projects for coming days, and insensibly he has based these plans and projects upon the new order of things. A new circle of ideas has opened itself to him, and however reluctantly he may have given up the old one, he is already active in this new sphere. And this new circle of ideas being one which moves in the atmosphere of Free Labor society, new interests, new hopes, new aspirations spring up, which closely attach themselves to the political institutions with which in this country Free Labor Society is identified. This is the Union, based upon general self-government. Gradually the reformed man will understand and appreciate the advantage of this new order of things, and loyalty will become as natural to him, as disloyalty was before. It may be said, that the arch-traitors, the political propagandists of Slavery can never be made loyal; that their rancor and resentment will be implacable, and that the only second generation will be capable of a complete reform. But such men will no longer be the rulers of Southern society; for Southern society being with all its habits and interest, no longer identified with Slavery, that element of the population will rise to prominent influence which most easily identifies itself with free labor; I mean the non-slaveholding people of the South. [Cheers.] They have been held in a sort of moral subjection by the great slave lords. Not for themselves but for them they were disloyal. The destruction of Slavery will wipe out the prestige of their former rulers; it will lift the yoke from their necks; they will soon undertake to think for themselves, and thinking freely they will not fail to understand their own true interests. They will find in Free Labor Society their natural elements; and Free Labor society is naturally loyal to the Union. [Applause.] Let the old political leaders fret as they please; it is the Free Labor majority that will give to society its character and tone. [Cheering.]
This is what I meant by so reforming Southern society as to make loyalty to the Union its natural temper and disposition. This done, the necessity of a military occupation, the rule of force will cease; our political life will soon return to the beaten track of self-government, and the restored Union may safely trust itself to the good faith of a reformed people. The antagonistic element which continually struggled against the vital principles of our system of government once removed we shall be a truly united people, with common principles, common interests, common hopes, and a common future. True, there will be other points of controversy, about banks or hard money, internal improvements, free trade or protection, but however fierce party contest may be, there will be no question involving the very foundation of our polity, and no party will refuse to submit to the verdict of popular suffrage on the controversial issue. [Cheers.] The Union will not only be strong again, but stronger than ever before. [Great cheering.] And if you ask me under what existing circumstances, I would propose to do, I would say Let Slavery be abolished in the District of Columbia, and wherever the Government has immediate authority, be abolished. [Loud and long continued applause.] Let the slaves of Rebels be confiscated by the General Government, and then emancipated, [tremendous applause] and let a fair compensation be offered to loyal Slave States and masters, who will agree upon some system of emancipation. – [Cheering.] Let this or some other measure to the same effect, be carried out in some manner compatible with our fundamental laws. I do not care which, provided always the measure be thoroughgoing enough to render a reaction, a re-establishment of the slave power impossible; [cheering] for as long as this is possible, as long as the hopes and aspirations of the Southern people can cling to such a chance, you will not have succeeded in cutting them loose from the old vicious circle of ideas, their loyalty will be subject to the change of circumstances, and such loyalty is worth nothing. [Cheers.] I am at once met by a vast array of objections. “It would be unconstitutional!” say some scrupulous patriots. It is not a little surprising, that the Constitution should be quoted most frequent and persistently in favor of those who threw that very Constitution overboard? [Cheers.] Unconstitutional! Let us examine the consistency of those who on this point are so sensitive. Have you not in the course of this rebellion suspended in many cases the writ of habeas corpus? Have you not suppressed newspapers, and thus violated the liberty of the press? Have you not deprived citizens of their liberty without the process of law? Have you not here and there superseded the regular courts of justice by military authority? And was all this done in conformity with the safeguards which the Constitution throws around the rights and liberties of the citizens? But you tell me that all this was commanded by urgent necessity. Indeed! Is the necessity of restoring the true life-elements of the Union less urgent than the necessity of imprisoning a traitor or stopping a Secession newspaper? [Applause.] Will necessity which justifies a violation of the dearest guaranties of our own rights and liberties, will not justify the overthrow of the most odious institution of this age? [Cheers.] What? Is the Constitution such as to countenance in an extreme case the most dangerous imitation of the practices of despotic Governments, but not to countenance, even the extremist case, the necessity of a great reform, which the enlightened spirit of our century has demanded so long, and not ceased to demand? [Cheers.] Is it, indeed, your opinion that in difficult circumstances like ours neither the writ of habeas corpus, nor the liberty of the press nor the authority of the regular courts of justice, in one word, no right shall be held sacred and inviolable under the Constitution but that most monstrous and abominable right which permits one man to hold another as property? [Great cheering.] Is to your constitutional conscience our whole magna charta of liberties nothing, and Slavery all? [Loud applause.] Slavery all, even while endeavoring by the most damnable rebellion to subvert this very Constitution?
But do not misunderstand me. I am far from underestimating the importance of constitutional forms. Where constitutional forms are not strictly observed, constitutional guaranties soon become valueless. But where is the danger in this case? Nobody denies the constitutionality of the power of the Government to abolish Slavery in the District of Columbia; nobody will deny the constitutionality of an offer of compensation to loyal slave owners. Or would the confiscation of Rebel property be unconstitutional? The Constitution defines clearly what treason consists in; and then it gives Congress the power to pass laws for the punishment of treason. In this respect the Constitution gives Congress full discretion. If Congress can decree the penalty of death, or imprisonment, or banishment, why not the confiscation of property? And if Congress can make lands, and houses, and horses, and wagons liable to confiscation, why not slaves? And when these slaves are confiscated by the Government, cannot Congress declare them emancipated, or rather will they not be emancipated by that very act? Is there anything in the Constitution to hinder it. Can there be any doubt, can there be a shadow of a doubt, as to the authority of Congress to do this? And if Congress can do it, why should it not? Do you prefer the death penalty? Will you present to the world the spectacle of a great nation thirsting for the blood of a number of miserable individuals? – Do not say that you want to make an example; for if you stop the source of treason no warning example to frighten traitors will be needed. – [Loud cheers.] Or do you prefer imprisonment? The imprisonment of the leaders may very well go along with confiscation, and as to the imprisonment of the masses, nobody will think of it. Or do you prefer banishment? [“Yes.”] – How would it please you to see Europe overrun with “exiles from America,” blackening your character and defiling your Government at every street corner and incessantly engaged in plotting against their country?
And what effect will these two modes of punishment have upon the Southern people? Either you are severe in applying them, and then you will excite violent resentments, or you are not severe, and then your penalties will frighten nobody, and fail of the object of serving as a warning example. In neither case will you make friends. It has frequently been said that the punishment of crime ought not to be a mere revenge taken by society, but that its principal object ought to be the reformation and improvement of the criminal. [Cheers.] This is a humane idea, worthy of this enlightened century. It ought to be carried out wherever practicable. But how much greater and more commendable would it be if applied to a people instead of an individual! As for me, it will be to be supremely indifferent whether any of the rebels meets a punishment adequate to his crime, provided the great source of disloyalty to be punished in itself. [Cheers] The best revenge for the past is that which furnishes the best assurance for the future. [Applause.] And how can we loose this great opportunity, how can we throw away this glorious privilege we enjoy, of putting down a rebellion by enlarging liberty, and of punishing treason by reforming society. [Cheers.] What hinders you? It is not the Constitution! Its voice is clear, unmistakable, and encouraging. – This time the Constitution refuses to serve as a mask to morbid timidity or secret tenderness for Slavery. Or is there really anything frightful to you in the idea, which we hear so frequently expressed, that every measure touching Slavery would irritate the rebels very much, and make them very angry. [Laughter and cheering.] – Irritate them and make them angry! I should not wonder. Every cannon shot you fire at them, every gunboat that shells their fortifications, every bayonet charge that breaks their lines, makes them, I have no doubt, quite angry. [Continued laughter.] It may be justly supposed that every forward movement of our troops has upon them quite an irritating effect. [Great laughter – “Fort Donelson.”] If you want to see them smile, you must let them alone entirely. But will you, therefore, load your muskets with sawdust, stop the advance of your battalions, and run your navy ashore? It must be confessed, they have never shown such tender regards for our institutions. But why will this measure make them so angry? Because it will, in the end, make them powerless for mischief. And if we can obtain so desirable an end by doing this, will it not be the best to support their anger with equanimity, and do it? [Cheering.] I never heard of a man who, when assaulted by a robber, would refrain from disarming him because it might create unpleasant feelings. [Applause.] But, in fact, the irritation it will create will be rather short –lived. It will die out with Slavery. I have endeavored to set forth that reformation of Southern society resulting from these measures is the only thing that will make the Southern people our sincere friends. Why not risk a short irritation for a lasting friendship? [Cheers.]
But while I am little inclined to pay much regard to the feelings of the Rebels, who would delight in cutting our throats, I deem it our duty to treat with respect the opinions of the loyal men of the South, on whose fidelity the whirl of Rebellion raging around them had no power. I have heard it said that any measure touching Slavery in any way would drive them over to our common enemy. Is this possible? Is their loyalty of so uncertain a complexion that they will remain true to the Union only as long as the Union does nothing which they do not fancy? What, then, would distinguish them from the traitors? – for the traitors would have adhered to the Union if they had been permitted to rule it. [Cheers.] It is impossible! Whatever they might feel inclined to do if their rights were attacked in an unconstitutional manner; to constitutional measures, constitutionally enacted and carried out, a true Union man will never offer resistance. [Applause.] As we listen with respect to their opinions, so they will listen respectfully to our advice. If we speak to them as friends, they will not turn away from us as enemies. I would say to them: You, Union men of the South, have faithfully clung to the cause of our common country, although your education, the circumstances in which you lived, and the voice of your neighbors were well calculated to call you to the other side. You have resisted a temptation which to many proved fatal. For this we honor you. We labor and fight side by side to restore the Union to its ancient greatness, and to their purity the eternal principles upon which it can safely and permanently rest. What will you have – a Union continually tottering upon its foundation, or a Union of a truly united people, a Union of common principles, common interests, a common honor, and a common destiny? We do not work for ourselves alone, we are not responsible to ourselves alone, but also to posterity. What legacy will you leave to your children – new struggles, new dangers, new revulsions, or a future of peaceful progress? An unfinished, trembling edifice, that may some day tumble down over their heads, because its foundations were not firmly laid, or a house resting upon the firm rock of a truly free Government, in which untold millions may quietly and harmoniously dwell.
We do not mean to disregard the obligations we owe you, neither constitutional obligations nor those which spring from your claims to our gratitude. We do not mean that you shall suffer in rights or fortune, nor to tear you forcibly from your ways and habits of life. But let us reason together. Do you think that Slavery will live always? Consider this question calmly, and without prejudice or passion. Do you think it will live always, in spite of the thousand agencies which, in this Nineteenth Century of ours, are busy working its destruction? It cannot be. Its end will come one day, and that day is bro’t nearer by the suicidal war which, in this Rebellion, Slavery is waging against itself. And how do you wish that this end should be? A violent convulsion or the result of a quiet and peaceful reform. Will you leave it to chance or would you not rather keep this certain development under the moderating control of your voluntary action? There is but one way of avoiding new struggles and a final revulsion, and that is by commencing a vigorous progressive reform in time. In time, I say – and when will the time have arrived? – Either you control this development by wise measures seasonably adopted – or it will control you. How long will you wait? You speak of difficulties; I see them – they are great, very great. But will they not be twenty times greater twenty years hence, unless you speedily commence to remove them? You ask me, what shall we do with our negroes, who are now four millions? And I ask you, what will you do with them when they will be eight millions – or rather, what will they do with you? (Cheering.) Is it wise to quail before difficulties to-day, when it is sure that they will be twice as great to-morrow, and equally sure that some day they must – absolutely must – be solved! You speak of your material interests. To-day, I am convinced there is hardly a man in the Free States of this Republic who would not cheerfully consent to compensate you amply for the sacrifices you might voluntarily bring. (Applause.) Do you think that after the fierce struggles which inevitably will come if Slavery remains a power in the land after this war, and which, with the certainty of fate, will bring on its destruction, an equally liberal spirit will prevail? Look at this fairly and without prejudice. Does not every consideration of safety and material interest command you to commence this reform without delay? Must it not be clear to the dullest mind that this task which imperiously imposes itself upon you, will be the easier the sooner it is taken in hand, and the more difficult and fearful the longer it is put off? But, pardon me, Union men of the South, if in speaking to you of a thing of such tremendous moment, I have appealed only to the meaner instincts of human nature.
How great, how sublime a part might you play in this crisis, if you appreciated the importance of your position – if you would cast off the small ambition which governs so many of you! To maintain a point in controversy just because you have asserted it, to say: we can do this if we please, and nobody shall hinder us, and therefore we will do it; or, we have slavery and nobody has a right to interfere with it, and therefore we will maintain it. How small an ambition is this! How much greater, how infinitely nobler would it be, if you would boldly place yourself at the head of the movement and say to us, we grew up in the habits of slaveholding society, and our interests were long identified with the institution, and we think also that you cannot lawfully deprive us of it; but since we see that it is the great disturbing element in this Republic, we voluntarily sacrifice it to the peace of the nation; we immolate it as a patriotic offering on the alter of the country! [Loud cheers.] Where are the hearts large enough for so great and exalted an ambition? Ah, if some man of a powerful will and lofty devotion would rise up among you; if an Andrew Johnson would go among his people, and tell them [great applause] how noble it is to sacrifice for the good of the country [immense cheering] not only one’s blood, but also one’s prejudices and false pride, he would be greater than the generals who fight our battles, greater than the statesmen who direct our affairs, and coming generations would gratefully remember him as the true pacificator of his country. [Applause.] He would stand above those that are first in war, he would be the true hero of peace, he would not be second in the hearts of his countrymen. Thus I would speak to the Union men of the South.
But whatever they may do, or not do, our duty remains the same. We cannot wait one for another, the development of things presses on, and the day of the final decision draws nearer every hour. Americans, I have spoken to you the plain, cold language of fact, and reason. I have not endeavored to capture your hearts with passionate appeals, nor your senses with the melody of sonorous periods. I did desire to rush you on to hasty conclusions; for what you resolve upon with coolness and moderation, you will carry out with firmness and courage. And yet it is difficult for a man of heart to preserve that coolness and moderation when looking at the position this proud nation is at present occupying before the world; when I hear in this great crisis the miserable cant of party; when I see small politicians busy to gain a point on their opponents; when I see great men in fluttering trepidation lest they spoil their “record” or lose their little capital of constancy. [Cheering.] What! you, the descendants of those men of iron who preferred a life or death struggle with misery on the bleak and wintry coast of New England to submission to priestcraft and kingcraft; you the offspring of those hardy pioneers who set their faces against all the dangers and difficulties that surround the early settler’s life; you who subdued the forces of wild Nature, cleared away the primeval forest, covered the endless prairies with human habitations; you, this race of bold reformers who blended together the most incongruous elements of birth and creed, who built up a Government which you called a model Republic, and undertook to show mankind how to be free; you, the mighty nation of the West, that presumes to defy the world in arms, and to subject a hemisphere to its sovereign dictation: you, who boast of reconciling from no enterprise ever so great, and no problem ever so fearful – the spectral monster of Slavery stares you in the face, and now your blood runs cold, and all your courage fails you?
For half a century it has disturbed the peace of this Republic; it has arrogated to itself your national domain; it has attempted to establish its absolute rule and to absorb even your future development; it has disgraced you in the eyes of mankind, and now it endeavors to ruin you if it cannot rule you; it raises its murderous hand against the institutions most dear to you; it attempts to draw the power of foreign nations upon your heads; it swallows up the treasures you have earned by long years of labor; it drinks the blood of your sons and the tears of your wives – and now every day it is whispered in your ears, Whatever Slavery may have done to you, whatever you may suffer, touch it not! How many thousand millions of your wealth it may cost, however much blood you may have to shed in order to disarm its murderous hand, touch it not! How many years of peace and prosperity you may have to sacrifice in order to prolong its existence, touch it not. And if it should cost you your honor – listen to this story: On the Lower Potomac, as the papers tell us, a negro comes within our lines, and tells the valiant defenders of the Union that his master conspires with the Rebels, and has a quantity of arms concealed in a swamp; our soldiers go and find the arms; the master reclaims his slave; the slave is given up; the master ties him to his horse, drags him along eleven miles to his house, lashes him to a tree, and, with the assistance of his overseer, whips him three hours, three mortal hours; then the negro dies. That black man served the Union, Slavery attempts to destroy the Union, the Union surrenders the black man to Slavery, and he is whipped to death – touch it not. [“Hear, hear.” Profound sensation.] Let an imperishable blush of shame cover every cheek in this boasted land of freedom – but be careful not to touch it! Ah, what a dark divinity is this, that we must sacrifice to our peace, our blood, our future, our honor! What an insatiable vampyre is this that drinks out the very marrow of our manliness? [“Shame.”] – Pardon me; this sounds like a dark dream, like the offspring of a hypochondriac imagination, and yet – have I been unjust in what I said? [“No.”]
Is it asking too much of you that you shall secure against future dangers all that is most dear to you, by vigorous measures? Or is it not true that such measures would not be opposed had they not the smell of principle about them? [“That’s it.” Applause.] Or do the measures proposed really offend your constitutional conscience? The most scrupulous interpreter of our fundamental laws will not succeed in discovering an objection. Or are they impolitic? What policy can be better than that which secures peace and liberty to the people? Or are they inhuman? I have heard it said that a measure touching Slavery might disturb the tranquility and endanger the fortunes of many innocent people in the South. This is a possibility which I sincerely deplore. But many of us will remember now, after they were told in former years, that true philanthropy begins at home. Disturb the tranquility and endanger the fortunes of innocent people in the South! – and there your tenderness stops. Are the six hundred thousand loyal men of the North, who have offered their lives and all they have and they are for the Union, less innocent? Are those who have soaked the soil of Virginia, and Missouri and Kentucky, and Tennessee with their blood, are they guilty? Are the tears of Northern widows and children for their dead husbands and fathers less warm and precious than the tears of a planter’s lady about the threatened loss of her human chattels? [Sensation.] If you have such tender feelings about the dangers and troubles of others, how great must be the estimation you place upon the losses and sufferings of our people! Streams of blood, and a stream of tears for every drop of blood; the happiness of so many thousand families forever blasted, the prosperity of the country ruined for so many years – how great must be the compensation for all this! Shall all this be squandered for nothing? For a mere temporary cessation of hostilities, a prospect of new troubles, a mere fiction of peace?
People of America, I implore you, for once be true to yourselves [Great applause,] and do justice to the unmistakable instinct of your minds, and the noble impulses of your hearts. Let it not be said that the great American Republic is afraid of the nineteenth century. – [Loud cheers.] and you, legislators of the country, and those who stand at the helm of Government, you, I entreat, do not trifle with the blood of the people. This is no time for politely consulting our enemies’ feelings. Be sure, whatever progressive measure you may resolve upon, however progressive it may be, the people are ready to sustain you with heart and hand. [Loud and long continued cheering and waving of hats.] The people do not ask for anything that might seem extravagant. – They do not care for empty glory; they do not want revenge, but they do want a fruitful victory and a lasting peace. [Great applause.] When pondering over the tendency of this great crisis, two pictures of our future rise up before my mental vision. Here is one. The republic distracted by a series of revulsions and reactions, all tending toward the usurpation of power, and the gradual destruction of that beautiful system of self-government, to which this country owes its progress and prosperity; the nation sitting on the ruins of her glory, looking back to our days with a sorrowful eye, and saying, “Then we ought to have acted like men, and all would be well now.” – Too late, too late! And here is the other: - A Government freed from the shackles of a despotic and usurping interest, resting safely upon the loyalty of a united people; a nation engaged in the peaceable discussion of its moral and material problems, and quietly working out its progressive development; its power growing in the same measure with its moral consistency; the esteem of mankind centering upon a purified people; a union firmly rooted in the sincere and undivided affections of all its citizens; a regenerated republic, the natural guide and beacon light of all legitimate aspirations of humanity. These are the two pictures of our future. Choose!
– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, March 15, 1862, p. 1