In the Future
Chicago Daily Tribune, March 27, 1861
Whatever settlement may await existing national difficulties, there is this one crumb of comfort to be derived from the partial chaos into which we are thrown, viz: that our stock of experience is being enlarged by witnessing the working of free institutions under circumstances entirely different from any through which the country has heretofore passed, and that with our additional knowledge we shall be able to guard against any similar trial of them in the future. What increase of power, or what new distribution of that already enjoyed; what new checks and balances it may be necessary to provide; whether the Executive arm shall be strengthened, the army and navy increased, and whether any more summary method shall be devised for compelling a derelict President to perform his constitutional duties, or for punishing him where his neglect involves the peril of the nation, will be subjects of proper inquiry after the excitements of the hour shall have passed away and we shall be able to look upon events now transpiring through a medium neither dimmed by passion nor distorted by prejudice. That there are radical defects, if not in our fundamental law, at least in the power to compel the enforcement of all its provisions in certain emergencies, can no longer be a matter of doubt. For nearly five months the Government has been drifting nearer and nearer toward anarchy; and whether we assume that it is for the want of power to arrest its progress in that direction, or because of failure to execute certain well-defined powers, the result is in no respect changed. There is a failure to meet the ends of good government somewhere, and it is of little consequence whether it is in the construction of the machine, or in the power which is to keep it in proper motion, or in both.
We are not of the number who regard the present difficulties as conclusive against free government. Every form of government which the ingenuity of man has yet devised, has had to pass through trials which have tested its strength, and those which have not failed utterly have, at least, been subject to temporary failure. There is no reason why free government, in the present state of enlightenment and civilization, should; be exempt from the common lot, nor is there sound logic in the conclusion that, because it is now undergoing the perils of such a trial, it must necessarily prove a failure. It is not a failure, nor will it be. Whether or not the rebel government of the Gulf States is permitted to maintain its pretensions; whether or not we divide upon the Slave line; whether or not dissolution of the Union be recognized as a fait accompli; whether or not we divide into two or more Confederacies, and maintain to the end of time two distinct nationalities—still the experiment of free government has by no means proved a failure. Like everything else that is of human origin, it is imperfect; but human intelligence is capable of correcting these imperfections as fast as they are revealed. Intelligence is the basis of civil liberty under whatever form of government it may exist; and so long as the American people maintain their present standing in this respect, just so long is free government safe, however severe the tests to which it may be subjected. There is no ground of despondency, therefore, in the perils which environ Freedom upon this continent—there is no occasion for discouragement or gloomy forebodings in the events which are transpiring before our eyes. The trial has to be endured; the battle which has been forced upon Freedom by Despotism has to be fought out; but that the latter will come off victor in the end, who can doubt? Victor! Aye, more than victor. She will have gained the knowledge requisite to guard effectually against any subsequent attack in the same quarter. This is all that can be hoped for in human affairs. There is no such thing as optimism in government; but with increased enlightenment, with every step of progress in moral elevation, and with every new experience bearing upon it, we can approximate that condition.
There doubtless is yet much to be learned from the experiences through which we are passing—much to be gathered up, analyzed and compared with what has gone before, much that is yet to come of which we probably have formed no just conception. The time for this will come by and by, when sectional animosity shall have worn itself out, or shall have been mollified by time and returning reason, or by a full harvest of its own bitter fruit. Wise men and patriots will then set themselves to the appointed task of remedying those imperfections in our system of government which experience has disclosed; and the final result will be that Freedom is all the stronger for the perils which she is now encountering. Let no one despair of the Republic.