Saturday, July 16, 2016

John L. Motley to Anna Lothrop Motley, June 9, 1862

June 9, 1862.

My Dearest Mother: I am pretty busy now with my “History,” and work on regularly enough, but of course I am disturbed by perpetual thoughts about our own country. I am convinced, however, that it is a mistake in us all to have been expecting a premature result. It is not a war; it is not exactly a revolution; it is the sanguinary development of great political and social problems, which it was the will of the Great Ruler of the Universe should be reserved as the work of the generation now on the stage and their immediate successors. The more I reflect upon this Civil War, and try to regard it as a series of historical phenomena, disengaging myself for the moment from all personal feelings or interests, the more I am convinced that the conflict is the result of antagonisms the violent collision of which could no longer be deferred, and that its duration must necessarily be longer than most of us anticipated. In truth, it is almost always idle to measure a sequence of great historical events by the mere lapse of time, which does very well to mark the ordinary succession of commonplace human affairs. The worst of it is, so far as we are all individually concerned, that men are short-lived, while man is immortal even on the earth, for aught that we know to the contrary. It will take half a century, perhaps, before the necessary conclusion to the great strife in which we are all individually concerned has been reached, and there are few of us now living destined to see the vast result. But it is of little consequence, I suppose, to the Supreme Disposer whether Brown, Jones, and Robinson understand now or are likely to live long enough to learn what he means by the general scheme according to which he governs the universe in which we play for a time our little parts. If we do our best to find out, try to conform ourselves to the inevitable, and walk as straight as we can by such light as we honestly can get for ourselves, even though it be but a tallow candle, we shall escape tumbling over our noses more than half a dozen times daily.

I look at the mass of the United States, and it seems impossible for me to imagine for physical and geographical and ethnographical reasons that its territory can be permanently cut up into two or more independent governments. A thousand years ago this happened to Europe, and the result was the parceling out of two or three hundred millions of human creatures into fifty or five hundred (it matters not how many) different nations, who thus came to have different languages, religions, manners, customs, and histories. As I am not writing a historical lecture, and as I am a wonderful son who can always astonish his mother with his wisdom, it will be sufficient for my present audience to say that not one of the causes which ten centuries ago disintegrated and decomposed the European world, with a territory about the size of the United States, and with essentially the same population, is present at this moment in America. The tendency of the age everywhere, and the strongest instinct of the American people, is to consolidation, unification. It is the tendency of all the great scientific discoveries and improvements which make the age of utilitarianism at which we have arrived. I do not believe the American people (of course I mean a large majority) will ever make such asses of themselves as to go to work in the middle of the nineteenth century and establish a Chinese wall of custom-houses and forts across the widest part of the American continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and keep an army of 300,000 men perpetually on foot, with a navy of corresponding proportion, in order to watch the nation on the south side of the said Chinese wall, and fight it every half-dozen years or so, together with its European allies. The present war, sanguinary and expensive as it is, even if it lasts ten years longer, is cheaper both in blood and in money than the adoption of such a system; and I am so much of a democrat (far more now that I ever was in my life) as to feel confident that the great mass of the people will instinctively perceive that truth, and act in accordance with it. Therefore I have no fear that it will ever acknowledge a rival sovereignty to its own. The Union I do not believe can be severed. Therefore I believe the war must go on until this great popular force has beaten down and utterly annihilated the other force which has arranged itself in plump opposition to it. The world moves by forces.

The popular force, where land is half a dollar an acre and limitless in supply, for a century to come must prove irresistible. How long the conflict will last I know not, but slavery must go down and free labor prevail at last; but those of us whose blood is flowing or whose hearts are aching (like Mrs. W. D 's, for instance, mother of heroes) may find it small consolation that the United States of 1900 will be a greater and happier power than ever existed in the world, thanks to the sacrifices of this generation. But we have only to accept the action of great moral and political forces even as we must instinctively those of physical nature. There, you see what I am reduced to in the utter lack of topics. Instead of writing a letter I preach a sermon. We are going on very quietly. There is nothing doing now. Vienna has decanted itself into the country, and we are left like “lees for the vault to brag of.” The summer, after much preliminary sulking and blustering, seems willing to begin, and our garden is a great resource. There is small prospect of a war in Europe. The poor Poles will be put down at last. What is called moral influence will be bestowed upon them by England and France as generously as the same commodity has been bestowed upon our slaveholders, and it will do about as much good. Fine words have small effect on Cossacks or parsnips.

Give our love to the governor and to all the family far and near, and with a boundless quantity for yourself,

I am, my dearest mother,
Ever your most affectionate son,
J. L. M.

SOURCE: George William Curtis, editor, The Correspondence of John Lothrop Motley in Two Volumes, Library Edition, Volume 2, p. 256-9

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