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The Duke of Argyll on the War in America

The Illustrated London News, vol. 39, no. 1115, p. 441.

November 2, 1861

The Duke of Argyll was entertained at a grand banquet in Inverary yesterday week by his tenantry. The banquet was held in the Argyll Arms Hotel—the Rev. Colin Smith, D.D., in the chair. The formal toasts having been disposed of, the chairman, in an eulogistic speech, proposed the health of their noble guest, which was most enthusiastically responded to.

The most important statements in the speech of his Grace came in at the close, when, having discoursed on agriculture and the causes of its prosperity, he referred to causes which throw a gloom over manufacturing prospects—the effects of the civil war on the other side of the Atlantic. On this subject the Duke made these weighty statements:-

"I see that there has been some fear expressed lately that the inconvenience which is likely to arise in this country from the contest in America is so great that there will be a pressure put upon the Government to interfere in that contest, or at least to take some steps which may ultimately involve us in it. I have too high an opinion of the good sense and of the public principle of the people of the country to believe that any such pressure will be put upon the Government; and I must add, that I have too great confidence in the firmness and public principle of the Government and Parliament of this country to believe that they will be willing to submit to such pressure if it were put upon them. It is our absolute duty, I need hardly tell you, to remain entirely neutral in that contest, and not only is it our duty to remain neutral as regards action, but I think it is to a very great extent our duty even to abstain from offering advice, though it might be conceived in a kind and friendly spirit. No good whatever can arise from offering such advice as that, for example, which was lately offered—I have no doubt with the best intentions—by the Emperor of Russia to the contending parties in America. The answer which the Americans will infallibly give to any such interference will, however civilly expressed, virtually amount to this—"We are much obliged to you for your kind advice. We have no doubt that it is conceived in the best spirit and with the best intentions; but there is a general rule in this world that every man should attend to his own affairs. And there is this additional reason for doing so in the present case, that it is quite evident that you don't understand ours." That is the answer which, virtually, the Americans have actually given, and which, I am convinced, they will continue to give to all such counsel. Because, after all, the truth is this, that mere general advice to compose their differences, without any specific suggestion as to the terms upon which those differences are to be adjusted, is always held by the Americans to imply indirectly, even though it be not intended, that the objects for which they are contending are either unworthy or at least trivial and unimportant.

"Now, whatever we may think of that contest, in fairness to our American friends we ought to admit that no more tremendous issues were ever submitted to the dread arbitrement of war than those which are now submitted to it upon the American continent. I do not care whether we look at it from the Northern or from the Southern point of view. Take the mere question of what is called the right of secession. I know of no Government which has ever existed in the world that could possibly have admitted the right of secession from its own allegiance. There is a curious animal in Loch Fine which I have sometimes dredged up from the bottom of the sea, and which performs the most extraordinary, innocent, and able acts of suicide and self-destruction. It is a peculiar kind of starfish, which, when brought up from the bottom of the water, and when any attempt is made to take hold of it, immediately throws off all its arms—its very centre breaks up, and nothing remains of one of the most beautiful forms of nature but a thousand wriggling fragments. Such, undoubtedly, would have been the fate of the American Union if its Government had admitted what is called the right of secession. Gentlemen, I think we ought to admit, in fairness to the Americans, that there are some things worth fighting for, and that national existence is one of these. And then, gentlemen, if we go to the South—if we look at the matter from the Southern point of view, difficult as it may be for us to do so—I must say also that I am not surprised at their conduct. If they believe—as they loudly proclaim they do believe—that slavery is not an evil which is to be tolerated only and brought to an end as soon as possible, but a Divine institution for the benefit of mankind, to be maintained, and, if possible, extended, and which, if it is assailed even in a single outpost, must be defended to the death; then, even though the citadel of slavery be not assailed, but only an important outwork, it is but natural that the South should rise in its defence. But, of course, in this as in all other revolutions, those who take part in them must be judged finally by the moral verdict of mankind upon the justice of the cause which they have risen to assert. But, whatever may be our private sympathies, we, as a nation, must take no part whatever in the contest. Most earnestly do we trust and pray that it may be brought to a speedy end; yet I confess that there is another wish which, I think, in our mind ought to stand even before this one, and that is, the wish that the end of this war, whenever it does come—be it soon or late—may be such as shall be worth the sacrifice and the cost—such as shall tend to the civilization civilisation of the world, and promote the cause of human freedom."

Several other toasts appropriate to the occasion were proposed and responded to in the course of the evening.

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