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The Situation in America

The Illustrated London News, vol.41, no.1161, p.221.

August 30, 1862


The time seems to have come at last when the Federal Government, slow to believe and slow to act, is prepared to recognise the stupendous nature of the work it has commenced in combating by force of arms the determination of the Southern States to maintain their independence. The Northern people, impelled by passion and not by reason--for reason would have allowed the South to go in peace as soon as it became evident that their Southern fellow-citizens were earnest and unanimous in their desire to secede--have hitherto been unable to see what Englishmen, Frenchmen, Canadians, and indeed the whole world except themselves, have perceived from the beginning--that they must either overrun the South by fire and sword, massacre or banish the white population and give up the plantations to the negroes and the Northern soldiers, or consent to the separation. Mr. Lincoln, his Cabinet, the press, the New England population, and all the large class of contractors, sutlers, and others, who are making rapid and scandalous fortunes out of the war, have decided within the last few weeks that the fight has not hitherto been fought as if the whole heart and purpose of the people and the Government were in it, and that it is necessary to carry on hostilities against their countrymen in as vigorous and unmerciful a spirit as if they were foreign foes leagued for the invasion of their soil and the destruction of their liberties. And clearly, if there is to be a war at all, this is the only spirit by which to invoke and command victory. But is it in the power of the Federal Government and its partisans in the press and in the pulpit, in the army and in the counting-house, to arouse such a feeling in the minds of the Northern people? We doubt it. The voluntary enlistments, entreated by the President, and sought to be expedited by bribes of bounty-money from the Federal authorities, from the State Governments, from the municipalities of great cities, and from the liberality of contractors growing fat on the plunder of the army, have lamentably failed. The President asked for three hundred thousand men, and in five weeks less than thirty thousand offered themselves. This fact made it clear in Washington that the war could not be carried on against a

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firmly-united and desperate people by lukewarm mercenaries, the more especially as the mercenaries only provided one man where ten were demanded. Consequently, the President, whose original idea was that seventy-five thousand men would be sufficient to conquer the South and to gather up and cement the broken fragments of the Union, awoke to the conviction that six hundred thousand men, in addition to the armies in the field, would be no more than adequate to the mighty work which it is his ill-fortune to conduct. If such vast forces can be collected by the conscription which he has ordered--a new thing among a free people, and never before resorted to in any self-governed nation except to repel the invasion of a foreign foe--the aggregate armies of the North levied since the assault upon Fort Sumter until the present day will reach the frightful number of one million three hundred thousand men. Of the first levies, composed wholly of volunteers, at least four hundred thousand have either perished on the battle-field or in the pestilential swamps of the South and South-West, been disabled by wounds and disease, or have ingloriously deserted and slunk away, no more to be heard of. And it is not too much to say, if the conduct of the war for the future be neither more vigorous nor more successful than it has been in the past, that a similar doom will await the new levy of six hundred thousand men.

But will the six hundred thousand be raised? That is the vital question of the day in America, as well as in Europe, which looks on wondering at the suicidal conflict. It is as yet impossible to answer the question. The response lies in a dim but not remote future, of which no one can lift the veil. Yet one corner of it can be partially drawn aside, and through that corner all who choose may see one thing very distinctly; which is, that the new army, if raised at all, will be composed mainly of Americans, and that the Irish and Germans who, up to the recent battles on the Chickahominy and the Pamunkey, formed so large a portion of the Federal strength, have lost their relish for, and their hope in, the struggle, and will persistently refuse to shed their blood in its support. Nothing else is clear in the haze of American politics but that one great fact; and it is one which can afford no encouragement to the Northern leaders, whether they be civil or military.

Perhaps, however, there is another fact almost equally ominous of the final issue of the strife--a fact which the Americans refuse to admit, but which is none the less palpable on that account. In fact, much as the North hates disunion, it hates negro emancipation still more. New England may call lustily for the abolition of negro slavery and the elevation of the negro race to the political status of white men; but the Northern, the Middle, and the great Western States repudiate the political partnership, would fight to the death against the social equality, and would rather expel the negroes from American soil than consent to a manumission of slaves which would bring black labourers from the Southern rice and cotton fields to the farms and cities of the colder North, to reduce the wages of white labour. Between the white population and the negroes there is an amount of repulsion and antipathy which none but those who have lived in or studied America can understand; so that the more loudly the bitter philanthropists of New England insist upon converting the war into one of abolition, the more inclined are the masses of the North who live by their labour to look upon the war as a lamentable mistake.

At this point at the present moment things appear to stand. The South gets heated as the North grows cool. Jefferson Davis takes heart as Abraham Lincoln loses it. The North hears the President's call for six hundred thousand men and obeys unwillingly, while public opinion--when bold enough to express itself--declares that one million will not suffice for the conquest, much less the retention, of the South. We in England, looking upon the matter dispassionately, bystanders that survey the game from a vantage-ground denied to either of the players, see that one section of the late ill-assorted Union is still united as one man in favour of independence under a separate form of government; while the other section, the only one as yet acknowledged as a de facto Government by the European Powers, is divided into a dozen warring sects and factions, and redivides and subdivides itself as the war proceeds. In the South the North has no friends. In the North the South has many warm adherents. Democrats and Republicans, professing both of them to love the Union above all things, hate each other with an amount of animosity unknown to the political struggles of the Old World, and only equalled by the antipathies of the Gironde and the Mountain in the early days of the French Revolution.

How long this useless war will continue to devastate the fairest portions of the North American continent it is impossible to forecast; but it is easy enough to see, from the desperation of the South, and the mingled pride and hesitation of the North, that the issues are not in American but in European hands. As one of the most influential and respectable of the Northern journals, the New York Times, declares, with a strong bias against the South, "the age of long wars has passed. The industry, the commerce, the civilisation of the world cannot stand still for years while rival communities settle their hostile claims by mutual slaughter." The New York Times speaks like its London namesake, and is thoroughly right in this respect. It is only wrong in believing that it is in the power of the Federal Government and the Northern people to render the war short and decisive by pouring in upon the South legions on conscripts numerous enough to convert the Cotton States into a wilderness. The thing is not to be done. The heart of the North is not in so fiendish an enterprise. There are no volunteers to undertake it; and conscripts are not to be depended upon. And, even if they were, mercy alike to North and South would combine with self-interest to compel the Powers of Europe to offer their friendly mediation to end a strife that is alike repugnant to constitutional government and scandalous to humanity.

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