London: Saturday, September 19, 1863The Illustrated London News, vol. 43, no. 1222, p. 282.
September 19, 1863
The choice reading of the President of the United States is said to consist of two well-thumbed and well-worn books which he keeps in his pockets--"Joe Miller's Jests" and "Æsops Fables." The last-mentioned is his particular favourite, as on all occasions of logical difficulty he draws his moralities from that source, to illustrate or enforce an argument, or to turn a laugh against an opponent. It would be interesting to know whether he has ever studied the well-known fable of the "Dog and the Shadow," so as to apply its teachings to the history of his own unhappy administration of Federal affairs. If he have done so, might not some useful reflections suggest themselves to his mind?
Like the dog of Æsop, he is doubtless convinced that the shadow at which he grasps--the subjugation of a proud, sensitive, valiant, and determined people, who ask nothing of him but to be let alone, to work out their own destiny unimpeded by the interference of pragmatical philosophists and theorists, who would free four millions of slaves and then leave them to starve or be exterminated--is no shadow, but a substance. But shadow or substance, as events may determine, he and the American people have already lost in pursuit of it more than any nation ever lost before that was not overrun by a foreign foe and held in the iron grasp of a military conqueror.
First and foremost, they have lost the Constitution--that complex, delicate, and finely-balanced instrument--which it took Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and their illustrious compeers such patient study, such consummate statesmanship, and such enlightened knowledge of human character to adapt to the wants as well as to the prejudices of a free and jealous people; a Constitution which guaranteed the right of local self-government; which found each component State of the Union a Sovereign within its own sphere, and left it so, and set bounds to all possible usurpation on the part of the Central Power. That Constitution is destroyed; every one of its wise provisions has been set at naught; the local authority has been denied and superseded; the State Judges have been arrested on the bench by armed men, for no other offence than an exposition of State law according to their consciences and their oaths, but which happened to be distasteful and inconvenient to the Central Government; the members of the Legislature of Sovereign States have been dragged from their homes and beds at the dead of night, and imprisoned in bastilles, subjected to disgusting indecencies and humiliations, and worse treatment than falls to the lot of convicted felons, not for anything that they had done, but for something which it was supposed they might do. Mr. Seward has rung a bell on his right hand, and ordered the imprisonment, by telegraphic message to a Provost Marshal, of a guiltless citizen of New York--guiltless of anything but hatred of the war and fidelity to the Constitution; and has rung a bell on his [l]eft and ordered by similar agency the imprisonment of another citizen in Ohio for the same offences. The privilege and right of the writ of habeas corpus have been overruled in thousands of instances, without other pretence or justification than the tyrant's plea of necessity. Forts Warren, Lafayette, and M'Henry have been crammed with prisoners of State, as ignorant for the most part of the grounds of their incarceration as any of the unhappy victims who were released from the Bastille of Paris on its destruction by the indignant French people in 1789. The right of free speech has been denied: and a gentleman, a scholar, a patriot, and a statesman--openly addressing twenty thousand of his countrymen in public meeting--for uttering words that not even the oaths of paid military spies could twist or pervert into anything worse than a want of confidence in the Administration, and of disbelief in war as an instrument for the restoration of a defunct Union, was seized two hours after midnight in his bedchamber and torn from the arms of his agonised wife and family by a mob of soldiers, tried by court-martial, found guilty of plain speaking, and sentenced to banishment from his native land, in defiance of an express provision of the Constitution of the United States and of the State laws of Ohio. Military dictators like General Butler, at New Orleans; General Schenck, at Baltimore; and General Burnside, at Cincinnati, have rivalled in insolence, brutality, and lawlessness any Dey of Algiers or Pacha of Asia Minor that was ever appointed by the most ruthless Sultan that ever reigned in Constantinople. The liberties of the Americans over the whole length and breadth of the continent have been either abrogated by military proclamation, or allowed in some exceptional places, such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, to exist upon sufferance, until such time as it should please the caprice or suit the supposed necessities of the Administration at Washington to supersede them by the stroke of the pen of a Major General or the dictum of a Provost Marshal. And, last degradation of all--degradation hitherto unknown among men of Anglo-Saxon blood and lineage--a ruthless and unnecessary conscription has converted a nation once proud of its free men into a horde of military slaves, and compelled every citizen within certain ages either to quit his home, his family, and his business, and serve as a private soldier against his own countrymen contending for their independence, or to buy his liberty--as a slave buys his freedom--by a money-payment. These are among the substances which the Americans have lost in the pursuit of what, as yet, is but a shadow, and which promises never to be anything more. The long list admits of a short summary:--Freedom of speech, freedom of writing, freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom of the person--all these are gone. They may not, perhaps, be gone beyond recall; but, certainly, they are not to be re-obtained by the present generation without struggles as keen and as sanguinary as have always attended the conquest or reconquest of such priceless treasures in other civilised nations.
The second substance which President Lincoln and his people have lost for a shadow is the substance of two thousand millions of dollars, or £400,000,000 sterling, already expended; and of about half as much more, for which the Government and people are liable, on current and outstanding account. As the interest at which this vast sum has been, and will have to be, borrowed ranges between three-and-a-half and seven per cent, it will entail upon the Americans, if they do not repudiate it, as they threaten, a permanent annual tax of one hundred and fifty millions of dollars, and a consequent taxation such as no country in the world endures except Great Britain and France, who severally incurred their enormous liabilities in foreign and not domestic wars extending over a couple of centuries.
The third substance--lost for ever in the stream because the too greedy dog would snap at a shadow--is the labour of one million of men for upwards of two years of war--labour in agriculture, in mechanism, in commerce, in everything that enriches a nation, and the money value of which would be greatly under-estimated in such a teeming country as America at fifty millions sterling per annum.
The fourth loss of substance, which the Americans--drawing as they do upon the over-peopled regions of Europe for fresh supplies--are always inclined to undervalue, is the loss of at least 500,000 men, by death in battle, by diseases in the camp, and by all the fatigues, miseries, and privations incident to a state of war. The record is an awful one, but has no terror for the Americans. They make almost as little account of human life as the Chinese, and deal with the higher quantities of arithmetic as unconcernedly as Orientals, who
Page 283talk of millions with as much nonchalance as sober Europeans talk of thousands. The whole scale of this war is gigantic--in its cost of treasure, of life, and of liberty; and all for a shadow, all for the desire of extended territory, for universal empire over the American continent, for pride, vainglory, and for the power hereafter to overawe and insult what they have the insolence to call such effete and decaying nations as England and France.
The longer their unhappy war continues the more conclusively events continue to prove that the attempted coercion of the Southern by the Northern States was the greatest blunder, if not the greatest crime, of our age. Themselves the product of a successful rebellion, they have fought what they call Southern rebellion with a vindictiveness and obstinacy which make poor George III. Appear, in comparison with Abraham Lincoln, a mild, a conscientious, and a reasonable ruler. Asserting in their Declaration of Independence that Government could only and ought only to rest upon the consent of the governed, they denied their own principle the first time that their Southern countrymen endeavoured to put it into practice. Mr. Lincoln admitted, on assuming office, that the Constitution had put no power of coercion into his hands. Had he and his advisers remained true to that belief--had they recognised the dogma of the consent of the governed as essential to the existence of Government, and simply contented themselves with doing nothing, they would at all events have secured the substance which they have lost in pursuit of a shadow, and done more by their inactivity to prove that Southern independence was a dream than they have ever done or ever can do by war, however long continued and fiercely waged. Time, commercial intercourse, and the subsidence of angry passions might have operated together to restore the broken compact, but now it is too late. What has been never can be again. The "United States of America" is but the name of a thing that is past. It is consigned to the page of history, along with the Roman Empire, the Heptarchy, and the kingdom of Bryan Boroihme. It once was and never can be again; and these words are alike its history and its epitaph.