London: Saturday, August 6, 1864The Illustrated London News, vol. 45, no. 1272, p. 138.
August 6, 1864
Though we did not attach much importance to the reports which have reached us in reference to an alleged attempt on the part of certain gentlemen in America to prepare a basis for pacific negotiations, the mere hint that such a thing was possible afforded lively satisfaction in England. Possibly, the majority of Americans may hesitate to believe this, in the present state of the public mind in North and South; but hereafter, when peace shall have been made, justice will be done to the English by such of our Transatlantic friends as may consult the columns of this Journal, which we may fairly assume to represent the feelings of the best classes in this country. We have never ceased to deprecate the cruel internecine war, and we have all along urged that it might be ended without detriment to the honour and character of the belligerents. The statement that Mr. Greeley, Mr. Saunders, and others were to meet at Niagara Falls and endeavour to devise some plan for terminating the fearful struggle was listened to with pleasure, even by those who did not believe that those envoys were precisely the persons best qualified to shape out a course of policy involving such enormous questions. The acceptance which the rumour met in America showed that peace was no longer among the impossibilities.
This "conference" has been as great a failure as another which is fresh in the English mind. The details are not of much consequence; but it would appear that the war party in the North is very desirous to discredit and repudiate the effort. It is sought to cast ridicule upon the scheme. We see no reason for this. It can never be ridiculous to try to stop the effusion of blood, to prevent men from being slain by the hands of those who were but the other day their fellow citizens. And, so far as we are informed, there was nothing in the antecedents nor in the conduct of those who were concerned to justify scoff and sneer. It is much to be regretted that the tone of the American press generally is below the great occasion that should call the best pens into existence for the common good. Personality, persiflage, swagger, are all easy enough; but the public "guide, philosopher, and friend" should spurn the weapons which the vulgar can use. We would bring no railing accusation against our American brethren of the press; but we cannot help feeling that they have not risen to the work before them, and have been too ready to be mere repeaters of the idle and violent talk of the masses. Many of them have yet to learn the grave responsibility attaching to those
Whose echoes roll from soul to soul,
And live for ever and for ever.
Did the American press and the American pulpit assert themselves more loftily, much would be done towards a pacification; and though we do not address these words to fanatics, we believe that there are numerous influential men in the churches and connected with the newspapers who will receive in the spirit in which it is offered this reminder of how much is in their hands.
In England an incident involving a failure often produces the most fortunate results. An inadequate effort in a given direction turns men's minds in that direction, if it can do no more; and at a happy juncture more able men step forth, adopt the principle, and carry it out with success. In Parliamentary matters this process is very frequently witnessed, and the failure of weak men brings forth the energies of the strong. It would be good news in the two worlds did we hear that the end of the Niagara conference was but the beginning of a congress with better prospects. What should now prevent it? It is the custom to answer all British suggestions with the somewhat supercilious remark that we "do not understand America." This is an idle phrase. What is there in America or in American affairs that an active, liberty-loving, practical people, akin to Americans, speaking their language and reading their literature, should not be able to comprehend. And when that comprehension is quickened by an earnest desire for the welfare of the West, we must really be allowed to characterise the allegation of nonunderstanding as a conventional impertinence. There is nearly as much ignorance among our uninformed classes upon foreign affairs as there is among the same class over the water; but we have failed to perceive any mystery which cannot be solved by those who are honestly desirous to discover the truth,.We believe that our journalists understand. American matters as well as the journalists of America; and we are sure--we say it without vaunt--that those matters are more gravely and befittingly discussed here than there. The real reason why we are charged with a want of comprehension of the case lies in the fact that there is a strong disposition in the West to go on blindly and take the chances--a state of mind, of course, which indisposes most persons to make or to receive definite logic. Fight first and talk afterwards, is a maxim which has its occasional value; but, in the present circumstances of America, the rule may be deemed unworthy of toleration. Let us see whether it is not the turn of talk, and whether the fighting may not be dispensed with.
One thing is abundantly clear. The question of peace or war is in the hands of the North. The South asks to be let alone. In this fact surely the haughty Northerners may find an ample homage to their pride. It is for them to say whether the sword shall be sheathed or not. They are the arbiters of the situation. This they are bound to consider. Then comes the question of honour; and although the Federals affect to be too philosophical to admit that this consideration is at the bottom of the war, and though they pretend to rest the struggle upon certain principles, we firmly believe that they have too much of the Anglo-Saxon in them to permit them to forget the idea of national honour. They would like victory because it is victory, and they need not endeavor to be better or wiser than their Old-World forefathers. But there are such things as reason and moderation. There is such a thing as knowing how to accept a situation with honour and good grace. We have had to do so occasionally, and never more notably than when George III. recognised the independence of certain provinces. The nation would have liked to subjugate those provinces, but it was evident that Destiny had ordained matters another way. Therefore we consoled ourselves, as the Northerners may well do, with the recollection that we had done, not our utmost, but more than enough for our character; and we smote hands with these who thenceforth became our friends, and whose friendship we ore not ashamed (even amid certain foolish taunts and menaces) to say that we have ever valued. What need prevent the Northern States from following the example of England? Will they place their point of honour higher than we do? Surely, what England has done the North may do without shame!
If the best class in America would rise to the work--would put down the war party, who will protract the strife while there is a dollar to be gained by the war, and will take the matter into their own hands, beginning at the basis of satisfied honour--we do not see why we should not, ere long, receive news of a new conference, and, instead of such disappointing tidings as have just arrived, we should not learn with hearty satisfaction that North and South had arranged a peace. May we soon have to record such a consummation.