A Comparison of Forces

Chicago Daily Tribune, December 13, 1860

If war should grow out of the present domestic difficulties besetting the Union, the maxim of Louis XIV would be as applicable to the condition of things now as it was to that monarch's long struggle with William of Orange. "The last piece of gold will win." The last piece of gold, of course, meant the last ounce of powder, the last piece of artillery, the last pound of bread and meat, the last blanket, the last pair of shoes—the last everything required in the business of destruction. We may assume that there will be no lack of men and no lack of courage on either side. We cheerfully admit that the Southern people are brave; if they think the Northern people are not brave they have only to put Northern valor to the test. We are of the opinion that Northern endurance has considerably the advantage of that quality as it is found in the tropics, but that is a matter of opinion merely, and can only be decided by actual campaign life. We are very clearly of the opinion that the North can carry on war years after the South is utterly exhausted and impoverished. Our reasons for this belief are mainly as follows:

I. In a conflict waged in defense of the Constitution the present armaments of the United States would fall into the hands of its defenders. The officers of the army and navy would owe allegiance to the President and Congress, and they would uniformly yield obedience to them. If their sympathies lay in another direction they would perhaps resign, but they would not dare to commit treason by attempting to transfer any portion of their trusts to an enemy of the United States. Although these armaments are comparatively small, yet they are already in existence and not to be put in motion. If they had to be created anew much valuable time would be lost, and the bill of expense would have a formidable look if required to be footed all at once. This is an item of immense advantage to start with, because

II. It would enable the government to blockade all the Southern ports one month after war should have been determined on. The South has no navy and no sailors, and very small facilities or genius for creating either. Her commerce would at once be cut off. Her productive industry being chiefly agricultural, and her agriculture chiefly of a kind which depends upon commerce for its value, such a blow would come with stunning effect upon her people. Under the most favorable circumstances she could not build and man a navy during the continuance of war, and without a navy she could not raise the blockade nor relieve her crippled industry.

III. The regular revenues of the country would continue to fall into the treasury of the government. All persons would be taxed alike, the willing and the unwilling. The liberality of individuals or of individual States would be a bagatelle in comparison with the giant forces at the command of Congress. If direct taxation should become necessary, (as it probably would not), the tax would be laid and collected from more than double the number of people, and more than treble the number of dollars to be found in the South. It would be simply the melancholy failure of Charles I. fighting his Parliament reenacted, or even a feebler and more melancholy failure than that.

IV. All the principal manufactories of arms and munitions of war are located in the North. Congress, in virtue of its power to regulate commerce between the States would immediately prohibit the exportation of muskets and the various cutlery of war, from one section to the other. The implements of destruction now distributed thro' the South would go only a little way in such a war as the government would be enabled to set on foot.

V. The South is already in distress for food. Her people are buying corn largely in Illinois and the other Northwestern States. It would perhaps be cruel for Congress to prohibit the exportation of breadstuffs to the revolted section, and thus starve them out, but war is cruel in all its forms, and Congress would certainly have the power to do so. It is yet many months to the harvest. Northern granaries are full to. overflowing, and the great markets of Europe are always open to take our surplus. The South is very poorly supplied even for the palmiest days of peace. Once deprived of the means of replenishing her empty flour barrels, her plight would be as desperate as her most vicious enemy could desire.

VI. We will not go into the census tables to demonstrate the superiority of the North in material wealth. Those facts are potent to everybody. A very large portion of Southern capital is invested in negro slaves. This species of property, so far from being an available means of offensive or defensive warfare, is exactly the reverse. If some slaves would fight for; their masters, a larger number assuredly would fight against them if the means and the intelligence were supplied them. But we forbear.—We have written thus much for no purpose of provoking our Southern brethren or inflaming our Northern neighbors. We pray fervently that the occasion may never arise which shall test the truth of these statements. War is the last, the very last argument to be resorted to among children of a common parentage. Let it be avoided by every sacrifice short of the legacy which our fathers left us in the Constitution of the United States.