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London: Saturday, November 21, 1863

The Illustrated London News, vol. 43, no. 1231, p. 514.

November 21, 1863

London: Saturday, November 21, 1863.

Among the evils of the war which has called out all the violent passions of our American relatives is the generation of a habit of what we are describing in the mildest language when we call it profanity. No person of honest nature would be too hard upon a man who at a time of fierce excitement should be too much moved to be very careful of his tongue. When directing the "currents of a heady fight," neither Napoleon, Wellington, nor Clyde, was particular as to the form of emphasis in which hasty orders were delivered; and a good deal of expletive may, under such circumstances, be thought no more of than the noise of the powder that is projecting the ball. But it is really another thing when preachers in the pulpit and statesmen on the platform think it necessary to be impressive by dint of appeals and allusions which are offensive to people of taste and painful to people of religion. American speakers and writers on both sides have been a great deal too ready to claim the direct superintendence and approbation of Providence; and those who would affect to see the blasphemy of such a man as Suwarrow, for instance, who rhymed on "Glory to God and to the Empress" after the butchery at Ismail, are ten times as prompt with similar tributes at every fresh slaughter in the course of a fratricidal war. We do not propose to annoy our readers by illustrations of this practice, as those who have read the documentary history of the struggle will recall a mass of such sins against propriety and religion; but even those who have noticed the clerical menaces of Greek fire and worse, by the Federal preachers, and have seen Mr. Lincoln's telegram, in which he invited one of the Generals to stand still and see the salvation--we scarcely care to copy the rest of the message--will not have been prepared for Mr. Seward's last outbreak. This, for mingled folly and profanity, perhaps outdoes most of what has preceded it. And this is the utterance, not of a soldier in the fierce heat of a fight, or even of a fanatic preacher blatant for the sake of pew-rents, but the deliberate oratory of the leading statesman in the Cabinet of Washington.

Mr. Seward, the Palmerston and Russell of the Lincoln Ministry, has been making a speech in which he declares that there can be no peace until Mr. Lincoln shall be President of the whole United States. Then, that is to say, when the flower of the Southern soldiery shall have been slaughtered--when the cities are garrisoned by Federals, and scores of Butlers are holding the people in an iron clutch--when the sword and the fire have done their work, then, cries Mr. Seward, "There will be peace, and the angels in Heaven may tune their harps to the symphony of such a peace."

Suwarrow, the Russian savage, is fairly outdone by Seward, the Federal statesman and philanthropist. The idea which he calls up is too painful to be regarded lightly, though the ridiculous blends with it to an extent which makes it difficult to repress a smile. If he had been content to be only portentously magniloquent indeed of profane; if he could have remained outside the barrier, and not rushed in where those he invokes fear to tread, it would have been well. Could he have been satisfied with the music of the spheres and let the morning stars sing together, rejoicingly "Hail, Columbia!" the sentiment would have been American, and not altogether impious. But the picture which he has sought to draw is so audacious that we should have hesitated to reproduce it, but that it is well that English readers should understand the sort of madness which has judicially laid hold of the men of the North.

Leaving it, and forgetting as far as we may do the profane part of the idea, we should much like to know Mr. Seward's idea as to some of the steps with which it would be necessary to follow up the peace, whenever it is made. If it were possible that the South could be dragooned into submission, what next? We do not think so ill of the Federal Statesmen as to believe that they desire to rule the nine millions of the South as Mr.


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Seward's idol, the Emperor Alexander, is ruling the Poles. We do not even suppose that he desires perpetual garrisons over the South, martial law, and a reign of terror. The idea probably is that if the South can once be subdued it will accept the humiliation, and take the goods the North provides it, and that in time ill-feeling will subside and institutions begin to work again. If these improbable events are ever to come to pass, it is not too soon for Mr. Seward to have begun to consider the sources of the misfortunes that have wasted the States, and what remedial measures should be adopted to prevent the recurrence of such miseries. And as, even if the North should have to make peace on other terms, and should have no occasion to include the concerns of the South in any Washington legislation, the same hints may be as useful, or perhaps more so (as Federal administration, under the circumstances, will be more difficult than heretofore), we should like to ask him respectfully whether these are among the rearrangements which he meditates.

Has he been convinced by the events of the last two years that universal suffrage is a mistake? Has he learned that to hand over the Government to the control of mere masses, without real cohesion or mutual understanding, is a blundering and dangerous process, as the result has shown? Does he think that this horrible war would have occurred had the American representative system been rational instead of the reverse, and if educated men and persons of property had really had a voice in the country? What can be a more terrible sarcasm upon the whole system than the mode in which the Chief Magistrate is chosen? The Americans are obliged, when attempting to elect their President, to eliminate every man of mark or notoriety, and the only man who has a good chance owes it to his utter obscurity--to the fact that, whereas something is known of other candidates, nobody can say good or evil of him. It was to his being nobody that Mr. Lincoln--an attorney--owed his being placed at the head of a great nation. And what is the consequence of such selection--if it be not an abuse of language to apply the word to the most blundering way of laying hold of a Sovereign. You get a mediocrity, or something worse, and he governs as might have been expected, and as would have been expected had anything been known about him. Mr. Lincoln, with some good intentions, has done more mischief than any Monarch of Europe (except Napoleon I.) who ever reigned. How can it be otherwise, when election is but mob acclamation? The intermediate electoral body makes matters no better, because it fairly represents the constituency, which is the worst conceivable. Has Mr. Seward thought of abolishing universal suffrage and of coming to a property qualification? We hope so, for to this complexion he or his successors must come at last.

Then, has he considered why the State is so ill served in America? He will hardly deny that it is so, in the face of the universal testimony of the American press, that the civil and military service is a mass of jobbery and incapacity. His it occurred to him that while the wicked and foolish arrangement which turns every office-holder out of place on a political change must effectually prevent officeholders from being anything else? A man knows that he has but a limited term to serve, and then he must once more seek his fortune. He would be something better or worse than a man if he gave much thought to anything save getting into office, and, when in, making, by fair means or foul, as much provision as he can against the day of his extrusion. And this is just what the public servant in America does. He has managed to get his place. As for devoting himself to learning its duties with a view to discharging them in the best manner, and, it may be, improving the system of which he is a part--as so many of our own public servants do--that is out of the question. He has to feather his nest, and he has not much time for the nidification. So the young and vigorous men of the country are either plundering it or are engaged in intrigue in order to have a chance of plundering it when a political change comes. Will Mr. Seward propose to make offices permanent, except, as here, when the holders misconduct themselves? If so, and he can carry his point, he will create a new service, and the affairs of the country will be managed in a new way.

If Mr. Seward will consider that by abolishing universal suffrage and by making offices permanent he may do much to elevate his country, and if he will mature plans to be offered when peace shall come, he will be a better patriot than he has hitherto shown himself. And if he will do this, and leave off talking profanely about the angels, we do not know that he would be the worst President that could be chosen to succeed Mr. Lincoln. But we doubt his courage. He is brave enough to be profane, not to be patriotic.

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