We cannot disguise from ourselves or our readers the melancholy truth that the American people stand hesitating at the brink of a civil war. Hostilities have already begun at a single point, and, as if the State of South Carolina was destined to preserve the mournful celebrity she has already won in the earlier scenes of the drama enacting before our eyes, it has been also ordered that the first collision should take place upon her soil. Happily that first conflict, by one of those remarkable appointments which, in our case, seems to be hardly less than a miraculous interposition ordained to protect us from the crime and shame of fratricide, has not resulted in the effusion of blood. It is, as we had occasion to intimate yesterday, as if the hand of Providence were visibly outstretched to stay the progress of the plague which we are plucking down upon our heads in the blindness and folly of a national infatuation which is without precedent in the annals of history. And it is with the impending consequences of this fraternal strife clearly before our gaze, and while as yet the path that leads to ruin has not been entered beyond all hope of retrieval, that we are called to look with calmness upon the attitude in which the country has been placed by the drift of events during the last few days.

If aught were needed to aggravate the sense of shame and dismay with which the patriotic are compelled to regard our political situation, we might find it in the causelessness of the wide-spread ruin brought upon our civil, social, and financial interests by the rash and reckless act of a single State. Arrogating to herself a peculiar sensibility in the matter of “Southern wrongs,” while having perhaps less reason to complain of such “wrongs” than any other State of the Union, and assuming the preeminent championship of “Southern rights,” without any thing in her past history or present condition to justify the pretension to such a self-imputed superiority over her sister Slaveholding States, South Carolina, with a strange perversity which has been the sedulously cultured growth of years, and with an obliquity of vision which has blinked at nothing that could foster civil disaffection and feud, dexterously seized on the constitutional election of an unacceptable President to precipitate the dread issue for which her leaders had been gradually educating the public mind throughout the long period of at least thirty years. Such was the open confession made by distinguished members of the “Sovereign Convention” which, on the 20th of December last, proceeded to pass the first in those series of “ordinances” by which the integrity of the Federal Union has been destroyed. Hinc prima mali labes. The work of disintegration so long meditated and cherished has at last been consummated, and the result is before us in the marshalling of forces for an ignoble war; ignoble, because inspired in its origin by no generous ideas, and impelled by no civil necessity save that which is the outgrowth of human passions.

Under these circumstances, it becomes the whole country to pause and consider well whether, at the bidding of a single State, the foundations of the Government laid by WASHINGTON, MADISON, and JEFFERSON are to be upturned, and the whole land, lately smiling with peace and plenty, to be drenched with blood. We shall be told doubtless that the party now clothed with the responsibilities of Federal office is “sectional” in its principles and “dangerous to the institutions of the South.” To this it is a sufficient reply to say that, conceding the truth of all that has been alleged to this effect, the power of the Republican party to carry into force any of its principles or measures was the direct result of secession, as without such secession it was in a minority in every department of the Government, save one, and in that its incumbent represented a minority of the American people, being simply the President elect by virtue of the appointments of the Constitution, and not by the numerical preponderance of his supporters. Was it ever before heard that, in a country of equally free and brave men, the majority were in danger of being “coerced” or “subjugated” by the minority? And even after secession had placed in the hands of the Republican party in Congress that political power which was denied it by the popular suffrage, what has been done to justify the apprehensions of the South? Even in the passage of Territorial bills, involving the sole question at issue between the North and the South in relation to the extension of slavery, we have seen this party refrain from pressing the obnoxious dogma under the simple apprehension of whose application to the common domain seven States, if indeed they have acted at all with reference to current political complications, have voluntarily abandoned all their political rights in that domain, preferring to subject those rights, if claimed at all, to the uncertain arbitrament of the sword, drawn in a civil revolution.

Eight of the Slaveholding States have acted more discreetly, and at the same time have manifested a higher sense of their obligations and privileges under the Constitution framed by our fathers. Not making political dissent the watchword of revolution, they have acquiesced in the beneficent arrangements by which alone popular institutions can be preserved from degenerating into anarchy. Abating none of their political opposition to the theoretical principles of the Republican party, (as we abate none,) so far as regards the sensitive question of slavery, they have thus far been able to discriminate between the just latitude of political debate and the destructive opposition of civil revolution. That in a Government of the people the people themselves should rise against the work of their own hands, and proceed to its destruction under the impulse of apprehension, presents an anomaly before which the political historian may well stand aghast, while the lover of his country, if all hope of her rescue were lost, might well despair of the “institutions” in whose success we have heretofore vainly boasted, with too much reliance on ourselves and too little sense of our dependence on the Divine favor and benediction.

It was a crime among the Romans, even under the pressure of the greatest reverses and in the close prospect of thickening disasters, to despair of the Republic. Let our patriotism, in this Christian age, be at least equal to that of Pagan antiquity, and instead of drawing from the perils which environ us the maxims of despondency, let us rather gird up the loins of our mind to more vigorous exertions for the salvation of our beloved but distracted land.

The proclamation of the President of the United States, calling forth the militia to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousand men, might well startle the country if, in the presence of current events, the popular mind had not become in a measure inured to portents and rumors of war. In the Seceded States acts of violence and aggression against the peace and dignity of the United States have been for the last few months committed with an impunity which is unexampled in the history of Governments endowed with the power of self-defence. Separate States, assuming to themselves severally the right to precipitate a casus foederis at their own will and pleasure, have proceeded not only to disregard the obligations defined by the Constitution as understood by the great majority of the States, but have neglected to practise towards their sisters in the Union even the poor comity of consulting in the least degree the wishes, interests, and rights of former political associates. Seven States have thus undertaken to coerce twenty-seven other States into the involuntary acceptance or recognition of a status created by the pursuit of their own foregone conclusions, and that too when the eight Border Slaveholding States, which have recoiled from the dread issue thus precipitated, are the very States which alone should have been entitled to lead in this deplorable transaction, if it had been at all the result of any necessity springing from wrongs endured at the hands of the North.

Our readers do not need to be informed respecting the course we would have had the Administration pursue in view of the present unhappy conjuncture. We expressed our opinions on this point with clearness and precision, in a recent article devoted to a consideration of what seemed to us the “evil” of the times and the appropriate “remedy.” [A National Convention]

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To these views we still adhere, and though the President has not distinctly pointed to any political solution for our pending complications, we do not understand that he has by the late proclamation closed the door to a pacific adjustment of the grave questions raised by secession, if only the people of the North and of the Border Slaveholding States shall properly and promptly address themselves to the great work of patriotic duty, which is made the more incumbent by the prospect before us. The President has announced no definitive policy which the people, as represented in Congress, may not direct and restrain, and if the main responsibility for the preservation of the public peace now rests upon the Border Slaveholding States, it is because their position between the extremes of the contending parties gives to them the post of honor, of duty, and of danger.

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It will be remarked that the President has not irretrievably committed himself to the policy of retaking the forts seized from the Union in the Seceded States. He merely states that the formidable force, which he has summoned, but which it will take a considerable time to gather and organize, may “probably” be directed to this task. The issues of the impending future are still in the hands of the people, if only the counsels of deliberate valor shall prevail in the Border Slaveholding States over the impulses of an impetuous because a hot and resentful courage.

For ourselves, we have to express the hope and belief that, until the meeting of Congress, the President will employ the military force of the Government for purely defensive purposes, guarding all points threatened with attack, and awaiting, in the mean time, the counsel and co-operation of the People’s Representatives before proceeding to ulterior measures, and upon those Representatives, when they are assembled, we shall, without questioning the legal rights of the Government, urge the impolicy of advising and consenting to the recapture of forts and public property which we do not want in States out of the Union, and which certainly cannot be permanently regained to the Union by military force.