The War and Slavery
New-York Daily Tribune, May 14, 1861
Many persons seem anxious to complicate the struggle now making for and against the integrity of the Union with questions concerning the perpetuation of Slavery. Some require the War for the Union to be a War for the extinction of Slavery; while others would have pledges given by the Unionists that Slavery shall in no case suffer from our triumphs. Each of these demands is in our eyes untimely and unreasonable. This War is in truth a War for the preservation of the Union, not for the destruction of Slavery; and it would alienate many ardent Unionists to pervert it into a War against Slavery. And, on the other hand, no pledges can be given that Slavery shall receive no damage from a Union triumph, because (among other reasons) no one can foresee how the Slaveholding interest will behave itself. Our own judgment confirms the testimony of cool observers that the conspiracy against the life of the Nation is rather that of the political aspirants than the slaveholders of the South—that, as a general rule, the slaveholders have been but reluctant backers of Secession, nine-tenths of whose noisiest champions are as destitute of slaves as of loyalty or patriotism. If the slaveholders as a class would only speak and act as they think and feel, we should have the head conspirators before Grand juries within three months. That the South, and especially the slaveholders, whose property is visible and tangible, are destined to be ruined by Secession, is plain. This rebellion found good field-hands worth $1,000 to $1,200 each; they can now be bought for half the money; and will be sold for a fourth of it before the war is ended. If the slaveholders do not interpose to stop the strife, the day predicted by John Randolph, when the masters would run away from the slaves to escape ruin, may be much nearer than is imagined.
Hitherto the armies of the Union have observed, and are disposed to observe, a scrupulous respect for all rights of property as defined by law. As yet, every solicitation that negroes should be allowed to engage in the War for the Union, has been unhesitatingly rejected. As yet, every fugitive slave who has run for protection to the Federal troops, whether in Florida or Maryland, has been returned to his legal master. On the other side, money has been squeezed out of negroes to fill the ever-yawning treasury of Secession, and we are threatened in various quarters with the arming of negroes to fight against the Union.
We believe the general inclination of the Unionists is to let Slavery alone provided it lets them alone. We believe that Slavery has nothing to fear from a Union triumph unless it should throw itself across the way of that triumph. But if Slavery should insist on making up an issue between itself and the Union, then we are sure it would do so to its own peril. Whenever the issue shall be—"Shall the American Republic, be destroyed or shall Slavery perish?"—we believe the overwhelming response of the patriots—Democrats quite as generally and heartily as Republicans—will be, "The Republic must live, even though Slavery should have to die!" It rests with the Slaveholders—especially those of them who are rich and powerful—to say whether that question shall be so raised and so pressed to a decision.