The President's MessageThe Illustrated London News, vol. 39, no. 1100, pp. 71-72.
July 27, 1861
Europe is suffering from an overproduction of Presidents' Messages. Instead of the ordinary rate of one a year, the last seven months have brought us three Messages and one Inaugural Address, all on the same theme, and each one differing materially in its conclusions from all the rest. First, there was Mr. Buchanan's Message, declaring against the constitutional right of secession, but favouring the right of revolution, and elaborately proving that the Constitution gave no power to either President or Congress to "coerce" a State. Secondly, there was Mr. Lincoln's Inaugural, denying both the constitutional and revolutionary right of secession, affirming the right of using force to regain possession of the forts and arsenals, but disclaiming any intention of subjugating a State or transcending by a hair's breadth those limits which the Constitution imposed on the executive branch of Government. Third in order came Mr. Jefferson Davis's Message to his Congress, repudiating the idea that there was any revolution (much less rebellion) at all. According to him, Secession was a reserved right, and its exercise had been as legal and constitutional as any normal operation of Government. Latest of all, we have Mr. Lincoln's second manifesto, in which he admits having ventured upon measures which, "whether legal or not, were ventured upon under what appeared to be a popular demand and a public necessity, trusting then, as now, that Congress would readily ratify them." There is no longer any squeamishness about not invading or subjugating a State, and there is an entirely new view of the relations between the States and the Union—namely, that the latter created the former, and not the former the latter, as was the universal previous opinion. Nor is this all. On the 20th inst. the Confederate Congress met at Richmond, unless, indeed, the sanguine anticipations of the Northerners have been realised and Richmond was then in their hands. The reassembling of this Congress will have extracted another Message from Mr. Davis, who will hardly fail to improve the opportunity to demolish in the eyes of the world the novel constitutional theory of Mr. Lincoln. In the complicated and interminable suit of "Jarndyce v. Jarndyce" none of the advocates retained could speak for five minutes on the case without being irreconcilably at issue with every other advocate on every point of fact and law. It is the same in the complicated and costly suit of South v. North, only that in this there seems to be superadded an inability in any leading counsel to be consistent even with himself.
However much they may differ in their premises and conclusions, all these constitutional argumentations have a wonder-
Page 72ful family likeness to each other. They are all evidently the offspring of the legal mind. They are all plentifully charged with splenetic humours against the representatives of the other side. Their utterers seem willing to go over the same ground again and again, but the court of public opinion to which they appeal is fast settling down to the conviction that this part of the case has been dwelt on long enough.
The allusion of the President to the foreign relations of the country will be reassuring to the soberer portion of the Americans of the North, and is couched in terms not offensive to the nations most nearly connected with the United States. The inkling he gives of his future policy towards the "rebels" is hardly definite enough to satisfy anybody. As it is, perhaps, the most important passage in his Message, we quote it entire:—
Lest there be some uneasiness in the minds of candid men as to what is to be the course of the Government toward the Southern States after the rebellion shall have been suppressed, the Executive deems it proper to say it will be his purpose then, as ever, to be guided by the Constitution and the laws, and that he probably will have no different understanding of the powers and duties of the Federal Government relatively to the rights of the States and the people under the Constitution than that expressed in the Inaugural Address.
That "probably" will appear ominous to the Southerners and their sympathisers in the neutral and Northern States. It looks as if Mr. Lincoln felt that another "popular demand and public necessity" might arise which would compel him to act differently towards the defeated rebels than his unbiassed judgment would prompt, and he has lately received a lesson on the inexpediency of making unqualified pledges which the storm of popular passion and the march of events render him unable to abide by. Quite as significant as anything he says is his utter silence about slavery. The word does not occur from beginning to end. This silence harmonises with other symptoms of Northern public opinion, from which we gather that the war is not to have any anti-slavery tendency. The Republicans have made a tacit compromise with the Democrats. The latter will continue to support the war, provided it remain strictly one for the Union, for the flag, for territory, for empire; and, as a price of this indispensable support, the Republicans consent not to give an anti-slavery character to their policy. The disappointed parties will be those Abolitionists proper who gave countenance to the war, not because they desired to restore a Union with slaveowners, which they had always denounced, but because they indulged the hope that the war must inevitably terminate in the liberation of the enslaved race.
The departmental reports which accompany the President's Message are more than usually interesting. The Secretary of War states there are 235,000 men now in the field. The proud exultation with which he makes the following confession is no more than what is warranted by the facts of the last three months:—
At the present moment the Government presents the striking anomaly of being embarrassed by the generous outpouring of volunteers to sustain its action. Instead of labouring under the difficulty of monarchical Governments, the want of men to fill its armies (which in other countries has compelled a resort to forced conscriptions), one of its main difficulties is to keep down the proportions of the army and to prevent it from swelling beyond the actual force required.
There is manifestly not only no lack, but a superabundance, of men. But what as to money? For this we must consult the lucid report of the Secretary of Treasury. He wants for the current fiscal year 320,000,000 dollars. Of this he proposes to raise by taxation only one-fourth; the other three-fourths are to be supplied by loans. This would be deemed an improvident way of beginning a war in Europe; but, considering that the National Debt of the United States is only 90,000,000 dollars, the Northerners are, perhaps, entitled to more latitude in the way of borrowing than could decently be claimed by any more prodigal nation whose ancestors had long since sown all the wild oats there were to sow. The Secretary of War boasts of his surplus of men; but the Financial Secretary does not proclaim any plethora of cash. On the contrary, the multitude of shapes which he gives to his loan proposals, the desire to make them popular, the high rate of interest offered—amounting in the case of the "national loan" to seven and three-tenths per cent—show that he is far from confident of the strength of his position. Scrutinising the report more closely, we discover a confession that the capitalists have failed him. United States' Six per Cents are now selling at fifteen per cent discount, and the Secretary owns that he has been unable to get any bids for a new loan at par, and only a very small quantity at rates varying from eighty-five to ninety. "It needs no further argument to work the conviction that, under the exiting laws, little or nothing of the required sum can be realised." The moneyed men having failed him, he appeals to those of smal [sic] means. He announces a national loan, on the French pattern, in Exchequer bills of the low figure of fifty dollars. He also hopes to draw upon the resources of British capitalists by offering to issue bonds in sterling money to bear seven per cent interest, payable in London. It must have gone hard with a patriotic Secretary before he could bring himself to make such a proposal; but it is another indication of the low estimate he places on the patriotism of the men who, with a larger amount of money in their banks wanting investment than was ever known before, demanded on a recent occasion twelve and even seventeen per cent from their Government at a moment of danger, and when it was at their mercy.
The present war is a people's war, and must be supported, if at all, by the people's money. Will it be so supported? This is the great question of the day. Will the popular loan be as successful in the United States as in France? This remains to be seen. But if it shall prove a failure the exhibition of northern patriotism will have been partial and incomplete. Severe critics will say myriads were eager to fight, but few were willing to pay. They will account for the multitude of recruits by pointing to the state of the American labour market. A very busy population suddenly found its ordinary employments stopped by a political crisis. That crisis, instead of coming to an end, only became more severe and widely extended. The working classes became moody, and began to suffer. Suddenly the Government called the unwillingly idle and suffering people to arms. What wonder they rushed to the recruiting dpts? What other resource had they left? This is the construction cynical critics will put upon the popular uprising if the national loan fails; and even candid and friendly minds will be unable to distinguish to how great an extent the genuine patriotism which raised an army of 300,000 volunteers in three months was alloyed by less chivalric impulses.