Value of the Union

Daily Chicago Times, December 10, 1860

How the heart of the true friend of human happiness must bleed to think that the time has come when we are compelled to reckon up the value of the American Union. That time has nevertheless come, and we are compelled to calculate the costs of our folly and madness. And yet who can calculate them—who can trace the ever-widening current of consequences which will flow from the disruption of the American republic! Who can depict its effects on the moral, political, and religious condition of the unborn generations of the Old and the New World, or foresee the revolution it will create in the monied, manufacturing and commercial world! Our intelligence is at fault, and our very imaginations stand appalled at the contemplation of the stupendous results. We are utterly bewildered and lost as we gaze into the future, and are ready to pray again and again that this bitter cup may pass from us. Well might the great Webster pray that he might never live to behold the disunion of these States.

When we think of the blood and tribulation this Union cost; its almost miraculous rise and progress; its influence in arousing the spirit of liberty in the Old World and the New; its position as the beloved asylum for the children of liberty and the home of the oppressed; its past greatness and its present almost imperial grandeur, we feel that it must be some horrid dream that all this is to be cast away for the mad fancies and vile passions of political demagogues, generated in the corruptions of a long and sublime prosperity!

Few can estimate even the political results which would flow from a separation. The impossibility for our people to maintain the government so wisely formed for us, in a time of profound peace and unexampled prosperity, is an overwhelming proof that they are incompetent to withstand the seductions of passion and the allurements of power. It will be a practical proof that it is impossible for us, under the most favorable circumstances, to be just against our prejudices, and that we are incompetent to exercise that enlarged forbearance required to govern vast and diversified interests. Slavery in the present strife has been the means, and not the end. The underlying power that has moved this commotion has been a desire to distract and enfeeble the opposition of the weaker section, that the majority section might the more readily appropriate to itself the patronage and power of the government.

The cause of the present trouble will not die with the secession of the Southern States. The Northern Republic, with two distinct and warring interests, and almost cut in twain on the line of Pennsylvania and Ohio, will ultimately sever on that line. The Northwest is a part of the Mississippi Valley, and has almost indissoluble ties that bind it to the mouth of that great river; while the Southern Confederacy would offer it an outlet eastward by way of Norfolk and Baltimore little if any inferior to the lake routes. The interest of the Northeast would be to subordinate the agriculture of the West to her manufacturing interest, and she would endeavor to make up for the loss of the South by a more stringent tariff on [the] Northwest. She would be directly interested, by her commercial interests to force our trade through her own markets, and suffer us to be cut off from the mouth of the Mississippi. But little forecast will enable us to see that the withdrawal of the Southern States will present to the wings of the North more irreconcilable differences than now seem to exist between the North and the South. The great Northwest would not submit to be a vassal to New England. They, too, would separate. The Pacific States would inevitably withdraw and conquer western Mexico.

These several divisions will almost inevitably take place the moment the prestige of the Union shall have been lost. Thus would the political glory and power of the great Republic perish out in less than a century after its creation. This is no idle picture. It is stern, naked reality.

But, for the moment, let us abandon all idea of the moral, social and political results. Let us turn our eyes from the contemplation of a divided and dwarfed people, with their exhausting standing armies, with their foreign influence lost, and with unending feuds and rivalries at home; let us turn from these and the thousand other untold political ills that lie before us, and glance for one moment at the effect upon our national wealth, resources and material progress.

No human mind can grasp these results. As the nation now stands, the money, trade, and commerce of the country all flow Northward. The South has left the shipping and carrying trade of this immense country wholly to the North. The mercantile business of the nation is done in the North. From Delaware to Texas, every merchant goes North to buy his goods. The North furnishes to the South all her manufactures, down even to pins, buttons and scrub-brooms. The result of all this is to keep the almost entire skilled and most profitable labor in the North, and to build up her wealth and power with unparalelled [sic] rapidity. It gives her the monied center, and forces all exchanges in her favor,—in a word, it makes the South a vast agriculture and planting tributary to the skill and enterprise of the North.

The South does not fail to manufacture or import from any natural obstructions to these pursuits. She has within herself every element for a great manufacturing and commercial nation; but her climate and soil have been such that she could well afford to pay others to perform such labors for her. She has voluntarily accepted the part of “unskilled labor.” With her immense staples, she has furnished near three-fourths of the entire exports of the country. Last year she furnished seventy-two per cent. of the whole.

This immense export balances the trade of the nation, and is again recovered back from her by the North, by selling her goods and manufactures. It is almost impossible to estimate the amount of money realized yearly out of the South by the North. It, beyond all question, amounts to hundreds of millions. By the present arrangement, also, we have a tariff that protects our manufactures from thirty to fifty per cent., and enables us to consume large quantities of Southern cotton, and to compete in our whole home market with the skilled labor of Europe. This operates to compel the South to pay an indirect bounty to our skilled labor, of millions annually. This result would follow under any tariff, for revenue or otherwise.

Such are some of the results which flow from the Union of these States.

Let us, for a moment, reverse the picture, and look dissolution in the face: At one single blow our foreign commerce must be reduced to less than one-half what it now is. Our coastwise trade would pass into other hands. One-half of our shipping would lie idle at our wharves. We should lose our trade with the South, with all of its immense profits.

Our manufactories would be in utter ruins. Let the South adopt the free-trade system, or that of a tariff for revenue, and these results would alike follow. If protection be wholly withdrawn from our labor, it could not compete, with all the prejudices against it, with the labor of Europe. We should be driven from the market, and millions of our people would be compelled to go out of employment. But the South will not have free-trade—even England would not ask her to do so; for the moment we are compelled to pay the same tariff with the English, instead of having the tariff in our favor, we should at once be driven from the market. Even if the South makes no discriminations by law against us, we must fail.

The operation of a Southern tariff would be at once to draw off an immense amount of our skilled labor, and to build up manufactures in the South. While this drain would be made on our skilled labor, a large portion of our shipping interest would pass into the hands of the South; and Baltimore, Norfolk, Charleston and New Orleans would again become the rivals of our Eastern cities in the export and import trade. The Northern cities would be thrown back half a century in their material growth and prosperity, and a complete revolution would take place in the commerce of the American continent. These revulsions will bring in their train very general bankruptcy and individual ruin. We shall pass through the most exhausting and protracted crisis ever suffered by a trading people.

The Northwest would not only be compelled to suffer her proportion of these ills, but she will have the most palpable an[d pe]culiar grievances of her own to suffer. The natural mission of the Northwest is to become the great granary of the Republic. The South can not only feed herself, but she can become a large exporter of grain and provisions of all kinds. She requires but a single year to change her cotton and tobacco into corn and wheat. As long as we remained united, it was a matter of indifference to the South, and her people chose to expend their labor upon their great staples. When we are separated a new policy will be inaugurated. They will raise more grain in the South, and thereby become more independent, and reduce the amount of sugar, cotton and tobacco, and thereby increase its price. This policy is already comprehended and proposed at the South. Thus the Northwest will be diverted or driven from the position of “feeder of the South,” and millions on millions of money will be lost to us. Besides this we shall be cut off from the mouth of the Mississippi, or reach it through a foreign country, and be compelled to reach the tropics through Boston and New York.

In a word, the Northwest under the Union ought to and would supply the South with provisions and in the end with manufactures;—with a divided Union she can do neither. In the Union, we have our commercial wings stretched North and South, and sail with both;—out of it, we have but one, and a crippled one at that.

Let the people of the North reflect with terrible earnestness upon the countless wealth they are to throw away by doggedly persisting in meddling with the slavery of the South. Let them remember that it is this very slavery that has made the South tributary to the North, and built up the colossal greatness of our commerce and manufactures. Let them reflect upon the countless blessings they have received from the Union, and upon the incalculable losses they must sustain from its overthrow; and surely they must consider that the surrender of the negro question, which is to them a mere sentiment at best, will be but a small tribute to pay for such inestimable blessings as we now enjoy. If we are lost to a sense of justice to our neighbors, and to all pride in our great country, let us at least be true to ourselves in dollars and cents. Let us count with earnestness the value of this Union, to us, to our posterity, and to the world, and then ask ourselves for WHAT we are forcing its dissolution!