The Question of Time with the Disaffected

Milwaukee Daily Wisconsin, April 3, 1861

Decisive Measures are the Safest—Recognition would give Traitors the power to begin the War.—There is naturally a good deal of discussion as to the influence of time, in soothing our political troubles, without a resort to decisive measures. The Chicago Tribune takes the ground that the longer the government delays the more difficult it will be to heal the breach between the North and the South—that decision and action on the part of the general government would sooner tend to produce a Union sentiment at the South. The Albany Journal takes precisely the opposite ground. That paper insists that time will heal the breach better than any other restorer—that the People of the South, if left to their own judgment, will eventually overturn the rebel conspirators and crush them at the ballot box.

There is a good deal to be said on both sides, for and against any effort to enforce the laws over the seceding States. If those States were alone to be considered, we do think that the policy of decisive action would crush out disaffection in the Cotton States the soonest, but the Border States are to be regarded in every view of arriving at a safe result. If they were heartily and cordially, as the Northern States are, in favor of enforcing the laws over the Gulf States, the government would be derilict if it did not convene Congress at once and ask for men and money, blockade the Southern ports, and give ample means and men to reinforce all the forts now held by the government; but there is imminent apprehension that any such coercive effort would be resisted, if not by the people of the Border Slave States, at least by the State governments now wielding the power of those States. This renders the question of even a moderate coercive policy so grave a one—the possible contingency of a war with all of the Slave States is to be considered. Here rests the hesitation, the doubt, and the difficulty of grappling the secession treason with the strong arm of military power. The Border States are gradually growing stronger in their allegiance, and there are many who hold that ultimately they will become exasperated at the rash and outrageous course of the Gulf States, and thus a war must grow up between them, unless the Gulf States return to their allegiance to the Union. Therefore, it seems to us that the question of time will aid us with the Border States, while with the Gulf States the disaffection must continue more permanent, for by inaction they have obtained a regularly organized government. The offices are all filled, and the office holders will be a species of peerage to keep the States out of the Union—the Union sentiment will die out, because it seems hopeless, and so more and more they will come to feel towards us like a foreign nation.

There is no free Press there, and from the nature of Slave institutions, never can be. The only way by which a Union sentiment can be aroused would be a demonstration of such overpowering strength on the part of the Free States, that would ensure protection to those who were willing to stand by the Union. Now those who utter a Union sentiment in South Carolina, &c., are in danger of being massacred.

So it seems to us that we must either at once recognize the southern confederacy, or prepare for a war. There is no middle course. But the danger of war is not over, even if we do recognize them. They still claim a portion of the territories—that is a prize which they will not surrender without a struggle, which may commence immediately after they are recognized as an independent nationality. Wise men will also see that our recognition of their independence will give them the very means of carrying on a war, for as a known and recognized nation they can issue their bonds and borrow. Now they cannot borrow a dollar in Europe, because they are not a nation, and may never be one, according to the law of nations. This is an important consideration in favor of decisive measures. It will not do to wait until they have grown to the stature of a giant, but it is best to meet them while they are comparatively weak and feeble. It is therefore held by Peace men that so far as the question of hostile collision is concerned, a recognition of the Confederacy would lead, in the course of a few years, to a longer and a bloodier war. It is better for us to meet this difficulty fairly and squarely, and not throw upon posterity the legacy of a long and burdensome war.

It is also to be considered that there are worse evils than war. If it produces great evils, it also engenders great virtue. The vices and demoralization of peace have destroyed as many nations as the vices and demoralization of war. This is the truth of history. So if we literally abdicate our national influence and power, and so humiliate ourselves as to destroy our character, whenever character is most useful and valuable, what do we gain by submitting to the piracies, robberies, and buccaneering that has been practised by the conspirators of the Gulf States, during the past four months? They do not allege any existing grievance or any invasion of their rights, but they fear that some may occur, and therefore they have gone to work and organized the most causeless rebellion that was ever raised against a good government since the foundation of the world. If they had any undoubted actual grievances of which they could complain, there would be some danger that decisive measures would be dangerous to the maintenance of the Union; but when they must see that the laws which they temporarily oppose are those of their own making, and under which they have lived and prospered even more than the North—so far as government patronage can aid them, they must rather respect and draw to the government which insists and proves by its acts that the laws which they have been instrumental in making shall be enforced. If we do not protect the loyal men in the Gulf States, we commit a great crime. In this case, as in all others, the Policy of Right is the Policy of Safety.