Border Press--Reconstruction

New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 17, 1861

It seems to us, that those of our contemporaries of the Border press who speak hopefully of a reconstruction of the Confederacy, shut their eyes to the first great necessary steps to be taken, before such a policy can be tolerated as possible, much less entertained as desirable. We do not allude to those atrabilious sheets, whose columns are blacked by detraction and scandal—whose mission is to misrepresent and slander. They, indeed, comfort and assure us in the position the South has taken; for we rise from their perusal vexed at the persistence of baffled malice but rejoiced that they are no longer our fellow-citizens; that they are strangers and aliens and foreigners to us. But the Border press is not made up of such. Many of them, who oppose secession, who regard the right to secede as apocryphal, and who spoke of the movement, when they thought it confined to a few disappointed ambitious schemers, as rebellious, wicked, and treasonable, now look upon it as a fact of such large and august proportions as to require other remedies than those which might suffice to put down a petty insubordination, or quell a local discontent. The idea of invasion conjures up a frightful picture of blazing homesteads and wasted sovereignties; the prospect of forcible reconstruction evokes the phantom of subjugated colonies, with an ever-turbulent and ever-resisting population. It is to this latter class we would address a few words, in sober earnestness, which we think may merit their consideration.

We quote a passage or two, or rather allusions to the Confederate States, by the Louisville Journal of the 11th inst., to bring the points we would specially commend to their reflection, distinctly in view. That Journal in one paragraph says, "the Southern Congress, as it calls itself, increases the postage of letters," &c., and in another speaks of the "so-called Confederate States." The leaders of the Journal of that day are as strong and powerful in defense of the Union as they have always been, but they are not disfigured or weakened by the harsh epithets which have too often wounded more by their bitterness than the argument convicted by its logic. We take it for granted then that our Louisville contemporary has come to regard the Southern movement as something else than "treason," used in any other than the loose and vague sense of implying a difference of opinion as to the value of an organization which it regards as madness, or rashness or foolishness to resist. It may yet think it revolution; but of such magnitude and consistency as should palsy the arm that would draw the sword to repress it; for the journal is as strong against coercion as it is steadfast for the Union.

If the terms "rebel" and "traitor" were ever applicable to the projectors of secession, if indeed there were any such as fomented revolution for selfish and unworthy ends, any who would bring the danger of civil war with its untold horrors upon their country from motives of personal aggrandizement, and of this God must judge, these epithets lose their meaning when peoples and States embraced the cause of secession and carried it forward to the withdrawal from the Confederacy. We are not "traitors" or "rebels;" for us these terms had no meaning beyond insulting. They struck above or below us; we care not which so they missed; neither were they "traitors" who differed with us as to the mode of resisting sectional aggression. Under the forms of the law they prevailed at the election, and we acquiesced in what seemed to be the decision of the people. As well might the members of the peace congress be denounced as in the line of treasonable precedent, if their mission meant anything more than a preliminary to unconditional submission. We all along understood that something more was intended; that the secession of the border States hung upon the issue of their errand; that "rebellion" or "treason" in or out of the Union was to follow the conviction that the dominant party would make no concession, give no guarantees. Those who advocated a congress whose decision might prevent the "dilemma" of submission or secession, should make allowances for such as took for granted what has actually happened, and moved in a given direction a little in advance of the wagon. We do not call Kentucky a submission State, because she does not take the decision of an abolition Senator as the opinion of the people. That gallant and noble commonwealth regards the authorities at Washington as an obstruction, a hindrance, an estoppel of the popular sentiment, which must be soon swept away. Louisiana is not a rebel because being hopeless of a change for the better, she has done what Kentucky must do, if the causes which are sufficient to produce secession are not removed, unless Kentucky means to wait forever. The convocation of the peace congress was conceived in the recognition of a state of facts which would, nay, should produce disruption, if continued. The justification of the South is admitted in the facts of the hour; her condemnation can only be prompted by the hope which casts its halo on things to come. But too much of this.

To the point. Cannot the Journal make one little move in the sway of peace? The so-called Congress! The so-called Confederate States! Why not say at once, "The Congress," "The Confederate States." Are they not such? Why parley with terms, when the facts demand recognition? Can the most ultra believer in the indestructibility of the Union imagine for a moment that the South will ever entertain a thought of reconstruction, whilst the status chosen by herself is unacknowledged? What elements do her Government or Congress require to make them a de facto power? They have all the attributes of cohesion, consistency, public sanction, a constitution, organized administration, and hands and hearts to defend them against assault from any, from all quarters. Whatever difference of opinion there may have been, or may be now, in regard to the time of secession, her people are a unit in acknowledging the supremacy of the Government. They accept the Conference as it stands, with the inherent right of fealty and support. Would the Journal have it otherwise? How would our contemporary relish the spectacle of a Southern commission sent to Mr. Lincoln to sue for pardon; to listen to the venerable Roman, as he presented a petition to his rail-splitting majesty, utter a speech like this: "Sir, we have sinned against Heaven and thee with a high hand and an outstretched arm, pray have mercy on our repentance for charity sake." To this complexion it must come, else we must be recognized or conquered. And what effect would such a programme have upon the interests of the border slave States? Would it make Black Republicanism less aggressive? Would it aid the strength of Kentucky? It is the nature of a sectional party to advance as the opposition recedes. Such a course, or any of which this might be considered a parody, would prostrate the conservative feeling of the North; it would supplant Black Republicanism with blacker abolitionism; it would install a reign of ruthless violence against the rights of the weaker members of the Confederacy; the claims of the South would be weighed in a balance, with a firebrand in one scale and a dagger in the other.

To be calm, would it be desirable to drive the South into the Union by any other compulsion than that of an adjustment so generous, so satisfactory and so stable, in its substance and form, as to be inevitable. To re-unite with all the antagonism of denied rights, with the sense of outrage glowing in the hearts of her people, with a deep conviction of insecurity abiding in every breast, would be as wise as to rebuild a magazine upon the smouldering embers of a seemingly quenched fire. It would be neither desirable nor prudent, if it were possible. The most ardent lover of the Union in the South would not dream of her retracing her steps now, unless the road was made smooth of the stumbling blocks which have made the progress of Union a career of strife, aggression and peril. And this brings us to what we shall propound in the way of suggestion, for the better judgment of our border friends.

The only process of a reconstruction, short of a subjugation which involves the extinction of the Saxon race South, must commence by a candid, bona fide recognition of the Confederate States, as an independent power—a recognition which carries with it the withdrawal of whatever may be regarded as offensive or repugnant to the ideas of complete sovereignty. This done, the two Confederacies will proceed in security upon their separate lines of progress and civilization. These lines will be parallel, or divergent, or they must meet at some point more or less distant. Short of that point it is useless to speak of reconstruction. If experience proves that separation is best, it will be best to keep separate. Or if separation developes inherent ineradicable antagonisms, they will get wider apart. If experience shall bring us together again, it will be by means so bland in their process, and so convincing in their development, that the consummation will challenge a unanimous consent. It is not for us to say when, or that these lines will ever, meet. We all have our opinions as to that. We all believe in physical, in commercial, in moral, and in social necessities. Physical necessity is an ever enduring force; commercial is more active but less constant; moral necessity is wayward, or rather like a metaphysical problem, less obvious in political application; social necessities have their ebbs and impulses, their floods and dry seasons. These are the forces which must keep us apart or bring us together. Their direction is obscured by passion, but passion is evanescent; it may be misjudged by prejudice or prepossession, but they are amenable to the laws of progress. The charts giving the direction of events differ according to the bias of the limner. It would be safe to follow the example of geographers, who, in their maps, trace the land marks as far they have data, and describe all beyond as undiscovered country. But this much we may safely predict, that with peace there is a prosperous future for both Republics; war has nothing good in store for either. Grant that each start afresh upon their way rejoicing; if they do not come together it will be because they should not; if they do, it will be because of enduring necessities. If they remain apart it will be because they will flourish apart. If they unite it will be upon a better understanding, and on a more satisfactory basis than they ever enjoyed.