The Benefits of War
Boston Saturday Evening Gazette, May 4, 1861
If there is one thought which should at this time fill every true American heart with gratitude, it is that which thrills our whole being when we look upon the North and see how in a single day almost every selfish wish, every sordid hope, every low desire has given place to lofty aspirations, to noble deeds and acts of pure patriotism. We thank God that it is our lot to witness the great revolution of 1861, to be among the living to see that the same spirit which animated the men and women of the Revolution inspires their descendants to-day; to look around and see men throw to the winds the standards of party, with their deluding mottoes, and rally, not in cliques and petty battalions, but in one mighty legion, to that flag whose stars and stripes speak to us all the more eloquently since rebellion has sought to tarnish its lustre.
We stand amazed at the evidences of the high devotion of a united people; we did not dare to hope that the sun would ever shine upon a spectacle like this, where the twenty millions composing our people are animated with but one desire and one aim; we cannot even now regard the position of the free States without feeling that a higher than earthly power has wrought this change for a wise and beneficent end. It is the hand of God, "who works in a mysterious way His wonders to perform," it is the breath of an All Wise Being, who utters from the lips of our orators those words which animate and encourage us, it is the finger of the Almighty who is pointing out to-day the only path which will lead us once and forever from out the dark labyrinth which political intrigue and thirst for power have created in our land.
It is true that we may have to stand where the battle has been fought and mourn the loss of brave and gallant sons; it is true we may be called to the house of mourning and have our best sympathies touched by the tears of those who weep for the fallen, but when the end comes, the nation will be purified by the sacrifice and the world made better by the struggle, however bitter. There can be but one result, there can be but one close to this great drama. The nations of the whole world are our spectators, and their hearts are with the actors upon this broad stage who are fighting for the perpetuity of a Constitution which has brought us from an insignificant handful to become a mighty people, and whose flag has been to the oppressed a sure protection for all who sought the shelter of its folds.
This feeling which now animates us is not the efferves[c]ence of men whose blood boils upon slight provocation and who bluster and promise great deeds; it is not transitory and skin deep. It is heartfelt, it is pure. The muscle of the arm hardens and the vigor of determined spirits makes weak men giants, and though long dormant and held in check, the power of the North now manifests itself. The history of the world has no parallel to it.
Men who it is supposed carried in their bosoms no loftier wish than to traffic and trade, bring their hoarded gains to replenish the treasury of our country. They pour out the fruit of their toil like water. They ask no guarantee that, when peace is restored, it shall be repaid, but they give of their abundance to the common cause. The affluent send their sons, and the fondest mothers shed tears of joy as boys leave for the field. Wives smother their emotions of tenderness and gird on the sword of their husbands for the fight, while the maiden who was but the gay butterfly of society takes the needle and ends in equipping the troops for the contest. Private dissensions and petty bickerings are stilled, and men who have been enemies now work shoulder to shoulder. Is there not in all these manifestations something which stirs the heart and gives to us cause to be thankful, something which elevates weak human nature above our ordinary estimate of its capabilities?