Civil War

Daily Chicago Times, April 9, 1861[1]

To what good end shall we inaugurate a civil war? Surely this is a most pertinent question at this hour for every thinking man in the country. It can not be possible that a Christian nation can desire to see thousands and tens of thousands of their people and tens of thousands of a kindred people butchered, and all the expenses and horrors of a civil war incurred without some adequate motive. To assume a different ground, would be to confess ourselves barbarians or demons. We then repeat the question as to what adequate motive we have for inaugurating a civil war. Let us examine the question for a single moment by the light of reason and uninfluenced by passion.

Any ordinary mind that will stop to think at all, should be enabled to get at the true gist of this question without difficulty. Let us see: A portion of our country, containing 5,000,000 of people, having become satisfied (correctly or otherwise) that they can no longer live with us consistently with their happiness, have resolved that they will have a separate government of their own. Many more millions of our people in the border States are seriously contemplating the same thing. Whether these parties are acting wisely or unwisely in our opinion, will not affect the view which we ought to take of the subject. The first question which meets us is, with what grace we can compel them to live with us. The very existence of our nation and the principles of our Government are based upon the absolute right of every people to seek that government which, in their opinion, will be most conducive to their happiness. This right to change, alter or modify our Government we acted upon to the fullest extent in the Revolution.

This right of revolution has ever been held sacred by the American people. The question then is, shall we deny this right when applied adversely to our wishes, and compel the unwilling embraces of another people? Knowing, however, that rights are rarely respected by dominant powers, and that there is a wide difference between your bull goring my ox and my ox goring your bull, we will pass over this view of the question entirely and come to another.

It will be confessed that in making war upon the South, we must end either in compelling her submission or in acknowledging her independence. Let us then first ask whether we can conquer the South. With the highest opinion of the ability, wealth, numbers, and courage of the North, we frankly and unhesitatingly assert that we can not. In a war of conquest against the Confederate States alone—considering the distance we would have to go, the character of the climate, the extent of territory to occupy, and the character of our enemy—it would be safe to say that 250,000 well drilled troops, maintained by us for five years, would fail of subjugating them. But it is not alone the Confederate States with which we must contend. War will inevitably compel the union of the border State[s] with our adversaries. No man can reasonably doubt this fact. Taking this for granted, we may then say that an army of 500,000 men could not conquer the whole South in five years. We might and doubtless would do immense injury to them at enormous and ruinous cost to ourselves. We might march through and through their territory; but we should find them still unconquered and more difficult to hold than to conquer.

But let us suppose that we could overcome all armed opposition—what then would we have gained? Simply this: eight or ten millions of Anglo-Saxons, lying exhausted at our feet—with an undying hatred in their hearts against us, ready to rebel again and again on every emergency, and to join with every enemy of the Republic against us; while we ourselves, will have lost a host of our brave soldiers, and hundreds of millions of dollars, and witnessed the utter ruin of our commerce, manufactures and trade, and the utter loss of our national prestige, power and glory. Our strength, instead of being increased, will be diminished intensely by such a success. The North without the South would in itself be a vigorous and powerful nation; but with the South conquered, and ever seething with hatred and disloyalty inside the government, We should be the weakest and most contemptible government on earth. It would take a regular standing army of 250,000 men to keep the South in order, after we had ostensibly conquered her. This would at once destroy the whole basis upon which our institutions rest. It would no longer be a government of consent, but a military despotism. Even the forms of liberty could not last five years under such a state of things. These are some of the many results which would flow from a conquest. What motive under heaven can be assigned adequate to a policy producing such results?

We have been led to review these points, from recent rumors reaching us by telegraph. These rumors indicate that the administration is adopting such a course as must in the end lead to civil war. This we are not yet prepared to believe. We have hoped and prayed that Mr. Lincoln would avoid the terrors of a civil war. We have hoped, and still hope, that he will rise superior to the trammels of party, and prove himself adequate to this great emergency. If, however, we are mistaken in this, it is our solemn duty, as a journalist and citizen of the Northwest, to warn our people and business men of all classes to prepare for such disasters and misfortunes as we have never witnessed before (and which may heaven avert from us now.) Evil, and evil alone, can come to us by a civil war. We shall stand by our country through evil and good report; but we should be traitors in our hearts did we not warn, with our feeble voice, against so utterly ruinous and fatal a policy. Our policy has been and still is to consolidate the Union by compromise, concession, justice and mutual good will; but if our hearts, principles, and aspirations are so adverse that we can no longer live in peace together, in the name of Christianity, decency and common sense, let us not cut each other’s throats about it, and destroy all hope of republican liberty and American progress.

[1] Copied from the Daily State Sentinel, Indianapolis. The date given is that of its appearance in the Sentinel. There are only a few extant issues of the Times for the first four months of 1861.