Peaceable Separation Rejected by the Confederate States

Boston Daily Advertiser, May 10, 1861

The one point which Mr. Jefferson Davis labors most earnestly to impress upon the world is that he wants peace, and that all he asks is to be let alone. In this he is imitated by all those public men engaged in his scheme who are able to rise at all above the course [sic] and vulgar strain in which men of less sense and craft endeavor to excite the war spirit. History will record, however, as an offset to these repeated asseverations that peace was the constant aim of the Confederate States, that they might have had this had they chosen. History will set down these protestations of reluctance to enter upon hostilities as one of the tricks by which each party in a great struggle uniformly tries to make the right appear on its own side, and setting these public declarations at their true value will find them absolutely controverted by facts which must be patent to every observer of the course of opinion in the Northern States.

When we say that the Confederate States might have had peace, we do not mean merely that they might have been freed from all molestation by abandoning their ambitious designs, nor do we go back to the familiar question as to the attack on Fort Sumter. We mean that beyond these alternatives between peace and war, when the Confederate States made the wrong choice, they might also, if they had chosen, have secured their independence peacefully. We mean that as public opinion stood last winter, the seven original Confederate States, upon satisfactory proof that their people were generally in favor of a permanent separation, might have obtained the consent of the others to such a measure, by bringing the subject up in a peaceable way for amicable settlement by a National Convention, or by such other authority as might have been agreed upon. Even the New York Tribune, a paper which now eagerly advocates the strongest measures for crushing the whole southern movement, then committed itself openly in favor of allowing them to depart quietly and in peace. How far this idea was entertained by republicans generally, we do not pretend to say; but it is certain that of the other parties then before the public, a very large proportion would have adopted it,—enough at any rate to have effectually prevented the government from pursuing any other plan, had the issue been fairly presented by the South, as a question to be settled without blows.

We do not undertake to reconcile the principle assumed in a plan of peaceful separation, either with the nature or with the permanency of our institutions. We simply say that the Confederate States might have secured such a separation had they chosen, by undertaking it amicably instead of making an arrogant demand with arms in their hands and with a claim of inadmissible conditions. And our opinion is confirmed by the course of events down to a very late date, for it is certain that down to the first of April the country was gradually preparing for a practical abandonment of all claim of authority over the seven seceded states, and that even under extreme provocation the pacific policy was not only strong in itself, but if once fairly undertaken promised to find support very extensively and in most unexpected quarters. Indeed we have a fresh illustration of our position, in the declaration made by Mr. Everett at Roxbury night before last, that he was willing, “while this ill-starred movement was confined to the States of the extreme South, and they abstained from further aggression, that they should go in peace.” When this declaration is compared with Mr. Everett’s entire support of the government in the issue which has been forced, it will show his late supporters at the South that a fearful mistake has been committed by their leaders, if those leaders did in fact wish for peace.

But those leaders could not let the revolution continue in the course described by Mr. Everett,—they could not suffer it to be confined to the seven original States; nor could they abstain from aggression. Had they sought for peace, that course was open to them, and, as we have seen, it unquestionably led towards the successful establishment of their independence. This did not suit their purposes, however. Other States must be dragged into a compliance with their scheme. The seven States which “only desired to be let alone,” laid their hands upon seven others, and still demanded to be let alone. They cried out for peace, and yet kept steadily at work moving for the dismemberment of the Union by the withdrawal of States which had testified in the most emphatic manner their disposition to remain under the Constitution. They undertook the reduction of federal fortresses, which, being claimed by both parties as of right, might well enough have been left as they were found, until some final adjustment by competent authority. The seceded States may have wished to be let alone, but they refused to practice the forbearance which they claimed, or to leave other States to determine their own federal relations for themselves.

The course actually pursued then gives the lie to the unblushing assertion of Jefferson Davis and his supporters, that war has been forced upon them. Peace and independence were within their reach, but not only did they at the last open hostilities, but their whole course was such as to force the government finally to defend itself in arms. They had their choice between the quiet separation of seven States, or more extensive movements with the danger of war, and they deliberately chose the latter. It avails nothing now to say that they still ask only for peace. They have chosen to throw the firebrand into other States, and they cannot now complain if in stopping the ravages of the conflagration the government also proceeds to quench the original flame. They took all the risks of an attack upon the very life of the government, from which they affect to desire merely a peaceable release. The world would be lost in wonder, if those risks were not found to involve the very independence which was for a time almost within their grasp.