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London, Saturday, March 23, 1861

The Illustrated London News, vol. 38, no. 1080, p. 260.

March 23, 1861


If no other interest were involved in the present condition of the United States of America than that which attaches to the dramatic spectacle of a nation divided against itself, the inaugural speech of the new President would have been scanned with the deepest attention. But it is to be hoped that we in England are influenced by higher feelings than mere curiosity when we contemplate the prospect of an internecine struggle between two sections of a people derived from ourselves, and with whom every recent year has tended to strengthen all those bonds which are forged by community of interests, commercial intercourse, and mutual respect. The speech of Mr. Lincoln at Washington must be considered in all its bearings, and examined in connection with all the difficulties by which he is surrounded, while a judgment is being formed with regard to it. That every effort has been made to invest that Address with a tone of moderation is evident enough; but in its most important declarations it is equally clear and emphatic. It lays down a determination to preserve the inviolability of the Union, and it as decidedly pronounces against the acts and the resolutions of the Southern States. No words can well be stronger than those in which he states that "the power confided to him shall be used to hold, occupy, and to possess property and places belonging to the Government, and to collect the duties imposed. Beyond what is necessary for these objects there will be no invasion or force." This is undoubtedly committing the Executive to a course of hostilities if that course should be found necessary to the maintenance of the Union. Assuming that Mr. Lincoln has entered on his office with the opinion that the first duty of the President is to maintain the Union, it is not easy to say how he could say less; but it is also certain that such a declaration must inevitably bring matters to such a point that one party or the other must yield if a hostile collision is to be avoided. As far as can be seen, there is little prospect that the Southerners will give way in this the first flush of what may be called their success; and it is probable that all that is needed now towards letting slip the dogs of war is the shedding of the first blood. As in more than one place the Federal troops are threatened with attack, this event will probably not be long delayed. As regards what may be termed the conciliatory part of Mr. Lincoln's speech, it urges on the citizens of the States that the triumph of the principles which are represented by his election does not militate against the enjoyment of peace, property, and personal security on the part of those who are his political opponents; and he reiterates that which he has said on former occasions—namely, that he has no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in States where it exists. The most sanguine Abolitionist did not think that the time had arrived for an emancipation of the slaves, so that this declaration is not likely to be taken for much. There is one concession, however, which may cause surprise in those who are not aware that some time since an opinion to that effect was uttered by Mr. Lincoln. He states that he is not unwilling to grant a more effectual Fugitive Slave Law than now exists. It would seem as if this was intended to intimate that, so long as the existence of slavery is acknowledged as an institution, all the concomitant circumstances which are supposed to be necessary to its safe enjoyment and preservation are to be held not merely as privileges but as rights. How far this may be thought to be in strict conformity with the doctrine of the Republican party it is not for us to say, but it is by no means certain that it will be accepted as any great boon by the South. For all immediate purposes it is most likely that this Address will be received as satisfactory to the North. It pledges the President to the solidarity of the Union, and it offers terms to those who are seeking to dissolve a federation which, with all its anomalies, has produced in an incredibly short space of time a great nation which is the admiration, and in many respects the envy, of the world. It would, however, be simply the result of judicial blindness if we were to yield to the belief that the danger of an armed contest has passed away. With that remarkable facility for organisation which the Americans possess, a new Republic has sprung up full-grown in the South, and the same spirit which led the Western colonists of England to brave her power will doubtless stimulate the seceding States to try the last conclusions with the strength of the North, backed as it is by the accessories and the prestige of that which is still called the Federal Government proper. Mr. Lincoln states that in the hands of his dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in his, is the momentous issue of civil war; his Government will not assail them, so that they can have no conflict without being themselves the aggressors. It is believed that even this is a responsibility from which the South will not shrink; and all that the well-wishers of peace and goodwill among fellow-citizens and men of the same race and nation can do is to hope that all the horrors and all the scandal of such a strife may yet be averted. That this is a hope against hope we are grieved to say that we cannot deny.

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