Saturday, September 10, 2016

Diary of William Howard Russell: June 1, 1861

The respectable people of the city are menaced with two internal evils in consequence of the destitution caused by the stoppage of trade with the North and with Europe. The municipal authorities, for want of funds, threaten to close the city schools, and to disband the police; at the same time employers refuse to pay their workmen on the ground of inability. The British Consulate was thronged to-day by Irish, English, and Scotch, entreating to be sent North or to Europe. The stories told by some of these poor fellows were most pitiable, and were vouched for by facts and papers; but Mr. Mure has no funds at his disposal to enable him to comply with their prayers. Nothing remains for them but to enlist. For the third or fourth time I heard cases of British subjects being forcibly carried off to fill the ranks of so-called volunteer companies and regiments. In some instances they have been knocked down, bound, and confined in barracks, till in despair they consented to serve. Those who have friends aware of their condition were relieved by the interference of the Consul; but there are many, no doubt, thus coerced and placed in involuntary servitude without his knowledge. Mr. Mure has acted with energy, judgment, and success on these occasions; but I much wish he could have, from national sources, assisted the many distressed English subjects who thronged his office.

The great commercial community of New Orleans, which now feels the pressure of the blockade, depends on the interference of the European Powers next October. They have among them men who refuse to pay their debts to Northern houses, but they deny that they intend to repudiate, and promise to pay all who are not Black Republicans when the war is over. Repudiation is a word out of favor, as they feel the character of the Southern States and of Mr. Jefferson Davis himself has been much injured in Europe by the breach of honesty and honor of which they have been guilty; but I am assured on all sides that every State will eventually redeem all its obligations. Meantime, money here is fast vanishing. Bills on New York are worth nothing, and bills on England are at 18 per cent, discount from the par value of gold; but the people of this city will endure all this and much more to escape from the hated rule of the Yankees.

Through the present gloom come the rays of a glorious future, which shall see a grand slave confederacy enclosing the Gulf in its arms, and swelling to the shores of the Potomac and Chesapeake, with the entire control of the Mississippi and a monopoly of the great staples on which so much of the manufactures and commerce of England and France depend. They believe themselves, in fact, to be masters of the destiny of the world. Cotton is king — not alone king but czar; and coupled with the gratification and profit to be derived from this mighty agency, they look forward with intense satisfaction to the complete humiliation of their hated enemies in the New England States, to the destruction of their usurious rival New York, and to the impoverishment and ruin of the States which have excited their enmity by personal liberty bills, and have outraged and insulted them by harboring abolitionists and an anti-slavery press.

The abolitionists have said, “We will never rest till every slave is free in the United States.” Men of larger views than those have declared, “They will never rest from agitation until a man may as freely express his opinions, be they what they may, on slavery, or anything else, in the streets of Charleston or of New Orleans as in those of Boston or New York.” “Our rights are guaranteed by the Constitution,” exclaim the South. “The Constitution,” retorts Wendell Phillips, “is a league with the devil, — a covenant with hell.”

The doctrine of State Rights has been consistently advocated not only by Southern statesmen, but by the great party who have ever maintained there was danger to liberty in the establishment of a strong central Government; but the contending interests and opinions on both sides had hitherto been kept from open collision by artful compromises and by ingenious contrivances, which ceased with the election of Mr. Lincoln.

There was in the very corner-stone of the republican edifice a small fissure, which has been widening as the grand structure increased in height and weight. The early statesmen and authors of the Republic knew of its existence, but left to posterity the duty of dealing with it and guarding against its consequences. Washington himself was perfectly aware of the danger; and he looked forward to a duration of some sixty or seventy years only for the great fabric he contributed to erect. He was satisfied a crisis must come, when the States whom in his farewell address he warned against rivalry and faction would be unable to overcome the animosities excited by different interests, and the passions arising out of adverse institutions; and now that the separation has come, there is not, in the Constitution, or out of it, power to cement the broken fragments together.

It is remarkable that in New Orleans, as in New York, the opinion of the most wealthy and intelligent men in the community, so far as I can judge, regards universal suffrage as organized confiscation, legalized violence and corruption, a mortal disease in the body politic. The other night, as I sat in the club-house, I heard a discussion in reference to the operations, of the Thugs in this city, a band of native-born Americans, who at election times were wont deliberately to shoot down Irish and German voters occupying positions as leaders of their mobs. These Thugs were only suppressed by an armed vigilance committee, of which a physician who sat at table was one of the members.

Having made some purchases, and paid all my visits, I returned to prepare for my voyage up the Mississippi and visits to several planters on its banks — my first being to Governor Roman.

SOURCE: William Howard Russell, My Diary North and South, p. 249-52

No comments: