The True Policy

Boston Daily Courier, January 25, 1861

Multitudes of persons, in various parts of the country, taking counsel of natural fears, instead of the hopes which seldom abandon a noble mind, are almost disposed to give up the cause of the country, as beyond any rational prospect of redemption. The indulgence of this despondent temper is, of all others, the most likely means of making their apprehensions confirmed by the issue. For our own part, long since foreseeing to what consequences the sectionalization of the country must lead, we have still felt a reasonable confidence, that as events became more and more developed, the public mind would become awakened to the dangers and necessities of the case, and that the great body of the people, freed at last from the grapple of self-seeking political managers, would express themselves in such a way, as to check our national progress to the point of final extremity. Undoubtedly now, could the sense of the people be reached in any legitimate manner, we should find a spontaneous expression of sentiment, leaving no doubt whatever of their preference for a settlement, even upon terms not particularly agreeable to them, to the surrender of their fair and glorious inheritance to the full possession of the demon of discord, and all the countless ills of anarchy and civil war. This manifestation of popular feeling is now reaching Congress from all those quarters of the country, which are not already deeply implicated in the actual process of secession, and we doubt not will be attended to. The question then will be—Will they avail to effect the grand aim of saving the Union from final dissolution?

The progress of startling and momentous events has been so rapid, within the two last months, the effect of movements at the South and the North have both so tended to aggravate the originally existing causes of the controversy—that at times it has seemed almost impossible to distinguish even the promise of a ray of light out of the superincumbent gloom. At such times, one would be more than mortal, not to experience some despondent emotions. Reason might be invoked to assure us, that no madness, on the one side or the other, could be equal to the contemplation of the ruin of a country, at the very point of attaining unparalleled supremacy and prosperity—when that ruin would be incurred chiefly from a misunderstanding merely between its different sections, and by them of each other, and not from any irresistible or “irrepressible” cause. But, on the other hand, the ungovernable passions of men, resolutely bent upon suffering the penalty of their folly, and on making whatever causes they could not find for the common destruction, might in the end disappoint every deduction drawn from a rational analysis of the case.

Still, upon the whole, we have never lost confidence in one guiding principle, which seemed to us to render a final solution of all our troubles, if not easy, at least inevitable, except for an alternative, never to be thought of, so long as reason or Christian feeling exercised any control in this not altogether unreasonable and still Christian land. In a word, effectual secession we hold to be impracticable, in the very nature of things. A State, or half a dozen States, may declare themselves out of the Union—but, besides material ties still holding them by an indissoluble bond, any active and united struggle of the South to dissever these, and other bonds still stronger than these, inwrought into the very framework of our civil organization, would of itself be war,—and a war from which all men capable of realizing its horrors, and not mere desperadoes in spirit, must shrink away.

To talk about “reconstruction,” after such a dire experience as that, appears to us little better than mere raving—and, therefore, every motive and feeling and intelligent principle serve to lead, during the period of formal “secession,” to the negotiations of peace. If we look upon the seceding States as enemies, and act accordingly, we may have warif we treat them as alienated friends, with whom reconciliation is to be desired and sought, the restoration of friendly relations is within our power, however late, and however difficult to be brought round. We are far from asserting that reconstruction would be impossible. The country of our ancestors, after its last civil war, fell into a settled government, in the course of about a century and a half. What a prospect for us! And with us, there would be impediments which did not exist there. We should be divided into independent sovereignties, and the cause of the quarrel, it is probable, would still remain. We talk now of concessions by the North—which really mean nothing more than the sacrifice of Northern opinion and pride in it, and the control of hostile sentiment and action—since there is no substantial and insurmountable cause of difference—but in case of a separation completed between the North and the South, and an effort at reconstruction, even if the North yielded all that was required upon the slavery question—as it must to effect any settlement,—on the part of the South there would be unavoidable a selfhumiliating retrocession from its assumed independence, and an implied confession of weakness, as well as wrong, which make any concessions asked of us now seem incomparably trivial and insignificant in comparison.

All talk about coercion is, therefore, not only useless, but in the highest degree unwise, on the part of those who sincerely desire the preservation of the Union. The fatal day may indeed come, when a resort to arms may be unavoidable, in order to maintain the government, and any semblance of the once glorious Republic. As yet, patience under outrages very hard to endure, and in themselves, full of peril to the highest interest of the country, is the only policy, in the pursuit of which we can hope for any probable adjustment. The grand object with every patriot will be, to prevent secession becoming fixed, by converting it from a formality into a position identified with irretrievable deeds. Our point is, to break up the quarrel, not to aggravate it. To this end, Congress may agree upon a basis of settlement, which may lead to a final return of all the seceding States, if the terms of it are fairly adapted to that end. It can do no more than this. For the rest, the people must determine the question for themselves. If this is done, we shall not despair of the restoration of the Republic to more than its former strength—and perhaps the blot which will still rest upon its fame, may not permanently tarnish it. It will probably take years to restore all things to their former channels. But our best hopes here rest upon the fact, that substantial good feeling is not now disturbed between moderate people in the several sections of the country. In every, seceding State there are plenty of Union men and Union women and of Christian men and women, whose unceasing efforts will be devoted to this greatest and noblest cause of the age. When political self-seekers and disturbers of the public peace have accomplished their evil work, they will go down and their influence be no more felt. The true friends of the Union may then work effectually and together, and they must be in the end triumphant.