Monday, May 9, 2011

Amanuensis Monday - After Fort Sumter

I arrived in Charleston, South Carolina Sunday, sound, and in my hotel room with two days to see Charleston before the NGS conference starts.  Undoubtedly, Fort Sumter will be one of the sights I see, so I decided to take a look back this Amanuensis Monday to an article in the April 15, 1861 issue of the New York Times to see how the attack on Fort Sumter was received 150 years ago.

"The People and the Issue

The reverberations from Charleston Harbor have brought about what months of logic would have been impotent to effect -- the rapid condensation of public sentiment in the Free States.  The North is now a unit.  Party lines have shriveled, as landmarks disappear before the outpouring of volcanic lava.  The crucial test of this is New York, City [sic] the spot most tainted by the Southern poison.  Not the thick insulation which the commercial spirit puts between the conscience and duty -- not the obliquity engendered by long years of the most perverse political education -- have been able to withstand the electric fire of loyal indignation evoked by the assassin-stroke aimed at the heart of the Republic.  There are now no such ardent supporters of the Government as those who have been life-long Democrats.  It is a fact full of omen, and one which persons imperfectly acquainted with the impulses that lie at the bottom of the popular heart could never have anticipated, that the very roughs of the City are aroused, and bring their passionate devotion to the cause of their country.  One intense, inspiring sentiment of patriotism has fused all other passions in its fiery heat.  Let the Administration now know that twenty millions of loyal freemen approve its act, and imperiously demand the vindication of the integrity and majesty of the Republic.

Viewed in the light of these events, the lull that for so many weeks reigned in the public spirit becomes very intelligible.  A suspense -- a long, dumb, unconscious waiting, very pathetic in its character -- held the people's mind.  Treason so vile paralyzed thought and will.  The way was not clear what to do.  It could not at first be believed that the country really held men so insane, so suicidal, as to attempt to transform such threats as theirs into deeds.  The sheer demonism which marked the programme of social construction put forth by the Slave Power, caused it rather to assume the aspect of a terrific species of irony.  And then, when the designs of the rebels became only too apparent, and it was evident that naught but the exercise of soveign [sic] Might could avail to check those frenzied men, there was honest hesitancy in resorting to the force of arms.  Civil war runs counter to the theory of the Republic.  The framers of our Government made such provisions as would forever render rebellion unnecessary.  All experience has shown how easily this Government can be induced to change its rulers, if any good reason for doing so was presented, and earnestly and persistently forced upon public opinion.  Besides this, there was a doubt in many minds as to the degree to which the theory of Democracy allowed of opposition to the avowed and deliberate will of sovereign States.  On the whole, it presented itself as a painful, perplexing problem.  That problem has at length been solved by the public conscience, and the solution sweeps away forever the sophistries as to State Rights and coercion which entangled the subject.  The lull is over -- and an equinoctial storm of popular indignation has ensued.

In entering upon this struggle, the great community of Free States does so, prepared to bring to bear on the vindication of its national honor inexhaustible material resources.  Her census shows returns which, under other circumstances, would have been the wonder of the world.  It has, indeed, been industriously declared by timid croakers that "war is national ruin."  There is no more absurd chimera.  The Free States are richer and more populous than England was under PITT, when she fought the long fight with NAPLEON, and vastly stronger than France when she battled triumphantly against all the Continental powers.

As to moral force, it panoplies the Republic as with a wall of fire.  She enters, the contest with that triple arming which justice gives to a cause.  The moral conscience of the world is on her side.  It is true that the rebels, lured by the support of that European element whose sympathies are contingent with the rate of duties levied on imported goods by the United States, have hoped for the recognition of the European Powers.  That delusion is doomed to be rudely dispelled.  The rulers of England and France do not dare to recognize that League.  The unmaking of Ministries would hang on the decision, and they know it.

The Administration is not brought face to face with a Revolution.  This is not the attitude.  It has to deal with a plot, a conspiracy.  There will be no "fraternal blood" shed, unless it be the blood of men who are willfully and persistently in the position of traitors.  The right of revolution is not denied; -- changes, prompted by causes material or moral, and effected through legal and constitutional means, are contemplated with calmness.  But that Treason should be claimed as a right -- that anarchy should rule -- it is this which thrills with indignant amazement.  How profound has been the humiliation, how hot the indignation, are shown in the tumultuous surgings of passion that are now baptising with one common sentiment of constitutional unity and patriotic devotion every loyal American heart."

Certainly the author of this article was dramatic with his choice of words, but not more so than others of the time.  You can see the passion he felt about the events at Fort Sumter, although he gave no description or very direct reference to these events as I would have expected and hoped for.  The Northern states that were so divided as to what to do with the South were outraged and united by the attack.  There was no loss of life apart from 2 Union Soldiers that were accidental casualties, but it was clear to the North that the "Rebels" were aggressive and the Union was now divided by more than words.  By more than a declaration of secession.  The South awakened a giant.  One filled with as much passion to restore the Union as the South had to seceed.  Our country and it's people would be changed forever.

It is important to keep in mind that while many Northerners would have fought a war to free the slaves, there were many that were not in favor of that, and perhaps more hypocritically many that wished to free the slaves because they felt it was wrong, but did not want those freed to move North as it would endanger their jobs by providing a large unskilled and lower-paid work force.  Sound familiar?  Sadly, the fears of people change little as time goes by.  Perhaps we don't learn from history so easily.
Regardless of the fact that the North entered the war mainly to keep the Union united, the outcome of the war was that the slaves were freed to begin the uphill battle for equality.  A battle that still has not completely been won.

Some things never seem to change.  It takes a violent action to unite a bunch of bickering people.  Maybe some day we'll get past that as well.