Sunday, July 31, 2016

John L. Motley to Anna Lothrop Motley, June 30, 1862

Legation of the United States, Vienna,
June 30, 1862.
My Dearest Mother:

It is a long time since I wrote to you, and I am only writing a little note at this moment, for I would not let this steamer go without a word of affection and greeting. But the life here is so humdrum, while yours on that side of the ocean is so crowded with great events, that it is always with reluctance that I sit down to write to any one. Our life here (Vรถslau) is very retired, and therefore very agreeable, for we can devote ourselves to our own pursuits, the principal part of which, as you may suppose, is reading the American journals. I try to work at my “History,” and have really succeeded in getting my teeth into the subject; but the great events of our own day in our country are so much more absorbing that I find it difficult to make much progress. As for European politics, except in their bearing on our own affairs, they are pale and uninteresting to me, although so important for the Europeans themselves as to prevent their giving sufficient attention to the American war. The consequence is that public ignorance on that subject is amazing.

I do not mean that we had any right to expect that they would sympathize with the great movement now going on in America. The spectacle of a great people going forth in its majesty and its irresistible power to smite to the dust the rebellion of a privileged oligarchy is one so entirely contrary to all European notions that it is hopeless to attempt making it understood. All European ideas are turned upside down by the mere statement of the proposition which is at the bottom of our war. Hitherto the “sovereignty of the people” has been heard of in Europe, and smiled at as a fiction, very much as we smile on our side of the water at that other little fiction, the divine right of kings. But now here comes rebellion against our idea of sovereignty, and fact on a large scale is illustrating our theoretic fiction. Privilege rebels, and the sovereign people orders an army of half a million to smash the revolt.

Here is the puzzle for the European mind. Whoever heard before in human history of a rebellion, except one made by the people against privilege? That the people rising from time to time, after years of intolerable oppression, against their natural masters, kings, nobles, priests, and the like, should be knocked back into their appropriate servitude by the strong hand of authority at any expense of treasure and blood, why, this is all correct. But when the privileged order of the New World — the 300,000 slaveholders leading on their 3,000,000 dupes — rise in revolt against the natural and legal and constitutional authority of the sovereign people, and when that authority, after pushing conciliation and concession in the face of armed treason to the verge of cowardice, at last draws the sword and defends the national existence against the rebels, why, then it is bloodshed, causeless civil war, and so on.

. . . One great fact has been demonstrated — the Americans, by a large majority, will spend any amount of treasure and blood rather than allow their Republic to be divided. Two years ago we did not know this fact. Two years hence, perhaps, we shall learn another fact — that the single possibility of division, that the single obstacle to peace and union, is slavery, and that so long as slavery exists, peace is impossible. Whenever the wise and courageous American people is thoroughly possessed of this truth, our trouble will be over. I think Mr. Lincoln embodies singularly well the healthy American mind. He revolts at extreme measures, and moves in a steady way to the necessary end. He reads the signs of the times, and will never go faster than the people at his back. So his slowness seems sometimes like hesitation; but I have not a doubt that when the people wills it, he will declare that will, and with the disappearance of the only dissolvent the dissolution of the Union will be made impossible. I have got to the end of my paper, and so, with best love to my father and all the rest,

I am, dear mother, most affectionately yours,
J. L. M.

SOURCE: George William Curtis, editor, The Correspondence of John Lothrop Motley in Two Volumes, Library Edition, Volume 2, p. 260-3

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