The Great Issue and the Choice—Separation or War
Albany Atlas and Argus, January 12, 1861
The sectional doctrines of the Republican party have—as thinking men have foreseen—at last brought us to the verge of civil war. Indeed, war has already commenced. Four States have formally separated from the Confederacy and declared themselves independent of the Federal Union and are in the attitude of supporting their position by arms. The Republican leaders adhere to their partisan and sectional dogmas and utterly refuse to do anything to arrest this impending danger and restore peace to the country. The present Congress will do nothing and before its term expires on the 4th of March, thirteen or fourteen of the slave States will have established a separate government, which they will sustain at the hazard of fortune and life. We shall be confronted with the stern issue of peaceable, voluntary separation, or of civil war. We shall be compelled to bid a sad farewell to the brethren with whom we have so long dwelt in liberty and happiness and divide with them the inheritance of our fathers—or to undertake, by all the terrors and horrors of war, to compel them to continue in union with us. We must separate from them peaceably, and each seek happiness and prosperity in our own way—or we must conquer them and hold them as subjugated provinces. Fellow citizens, of all parties and of whatever past views, which course do you prefer? Shall it be peaceable separation or civil war?
If such be the issue—and none can now deny it—before choosing war, it will be well to reflect whether it will effect the desired object of preserving the Union of these States? With thirteen or fourteen States banded together and fighting with as much pertinacity, as our fathers of the Thirteen Colonies, for what they deem their rights and liberties, the war must be a deadly and protracted one. We do not doubt that the superior numbers and resources of the Northern States might prevail. We might defeat them in battle, overrun their country, and capture and sack and burn their cities, and carry terror and desolation, by fire and sword, over their several States. We might ruin the commerce and industry of the country, North and South, sweep the whole land with the besom of war, and cause the nation to resound with the groans of widows and orphans; all this we might do, and through it all, possibly, be able to boast of the triumph of the Federal arms, and to see the stars and stripes waive over every battle field and every smoking city.
But would peace thereby be restored? Would the Union be thus preserved? Would these conquered States quietly assume their old places in the Confederacy? Would they send Representatives to Congress, take part in the Presidential elections, and perform their functions as loyal members of the Union? Would they be anything but conquered States, held in subjection by military restraint? No—peace and concord between these States cannot be reached through the medium of war. The probable result of a long and deadly struggle would be a treaty of peace, agreeing to a division. War is necessarily disunion and division, and we prefer division without war—if it must come. By a peac[e]able separation the enmities of the two sections will not be inflamed beyond all possible hope of reconciliation and reconstruction, but war will be eternal hostility and division. Let the people of this country pause before they draw the sword and plunge into a fratricidal strife.
We say emphatically, let the great State of New York not be foremost in kindling a flame, which never will be quenched except in the blood of our kindred. The public passions are easily aroused and the great danger at this moment is that the war spirit will take possession of the populace and hurry us and the country on to ruin. The press, influential citizens, legislators and other public men—instead of inflaming this feeling and seeking ephemeral popularity by ministering to it, should seek to restrain it and lead the people of this State to act with moderation. New York should not forget her position, as the most powerful State of the Union and should put forth her influence, in this emergency, in favor of peace, and if she cannot stay the mad torrent of disunion, should hold herself in condition to be able, when the passions of men shall have cooled, to engage in the work of reconstruction and of re-uniting States now dissevered, for causes so trivial that time and reflection—if we escape war-may be expected to remove them.
We repeat—if disunion must come, let it come without war. Peaceable separation is a great calamity—but dissolution, with the superadded horrors of internal war, including the ruin of business, the destruction of property, oppressive debt, grinding taxation and sacrifice of millions of lives, is a scourge from which, let us pray, that a merciful Providence may protect us.
If the present Congress, and the political leaders in it, who have brought the country into this danger, have not the patriotism to adopt measures for the restoration of peace, better than plunge the nation into civil war, let them propose Constitutional amendments, which will enable the people to pass upon the question of a voluntary and peaceful separation. Then, at least the hope will remain that the people may in good time discard their fanatical political leaders and apply themselves to the reconstruction and renovation of the Constitution and the Union.