The Two Presidents
New York Evening Post, February 18, 1861
Mr. Lincoln, President of the United States, and Mr. Davis, President of the Confederate States, are both making their way to their respective seats of government. Both are enthusiastically received by the people through whose towns and cities they pass, and both make speeches declaratory of their policy to a certain extent. But under what different characters and different auspices do they proceed! Mr. Lincoln is the constitutionally elected President of twenty-five millions of free people, and represents not only the principle of order in general, but the noblest constitution of government that ever the wisdom of man devised. Mr. Davis, on the other hand, is the chosen officer of a packed convention of disaffected traitors and schemers who can allege nothing against the government from which they revolt and whose leading motives are a restless ambition and malignant prejudices again t their fellow-men. Mr. Lincoln carries with him the sympathies of the whole enlightened world, while Mr. Davis provokes either its execrations or its ridicule.
In the tenor of their speeches there is the same contrast. Mr. Lincoln talks as if to rational men, with a calm confidence in the good sense of his hearers and in the peaceful and recuperative workings of tire institutions of his country; but Mr. Davis lards his speech, like Bob Acres, with "odds guns and triggers," and snuffs war afar off. "It may be," says the latter—"it may be that our career will be ushered in in the midst of storm. It may be that, as this morning opened with clouds, mist and rain, we shall have to encounter inconvenience at the beginning; but as the sun rose it lifted the mist and dispelled the clouds and left the pure sunlight of heaven, so will the progress of the Southern Confederacy carry us safe to the harbor of constitutional liberty and political equality. Thus we have nothing to fear at home, because at home we have homogeneity; we will have nothing to fear abroad, because if war should come, if we must again baptize in blood the principles for which our fathers bled in the revolution, we shall show we are not degenerate sons, but will redeem the pledges they gave, preserve the sacred right they transmitted to us, and show that southern valor still shines as brightly as in 1776, in 1812, and in every other conflict."
This is valorous, truly; but it is a superfluous valor. Nobody is going to fight Mr. Davis, and he squares off before he has got an opponent. The government of the United States will retain and defend its property; it will execute its revenue laws where it can, and where it cannot it will suspend them; but it will make no aggressive wars. If Mr. Davis resist it in the exercise of its undoubted right, the war will be of his own making. He will make it, too, not as our fathers, to whom he refers, did, against the oppressions of a government they disliked, but as a reckless and crazy insurgent. Mr. Davis knows, and his Vice-President, Mr. Stephens, knows, that the government of the United States has been in every respect just, equitable and generous. It has never infringed, in a single respect, upon the prerogatives of any southern state; it has never trampled upon the rights of any southern man; and the revolt against it is not a revolt against tyranny, but the wilful and turbulent insurrection of political fanatics, who were cast down from power by the regular action of the government, and who have resolved to ruin where they cannot rule.
It is a libel upon the whole character and conduct of the men of '76 to compare their proceedings with those of the seceders. They rejected the supremacy of Great Britain, but they did so because that supremacy was exerted illegally for their oppression. They revolted in order to establish the rights of man. The motives which actuated them, and the principles they established, were the motives and principles of universal liberty. Their deed resounded throughout the world as one of the grand deeds of history. All men of noble hearts and generous impulses, all over the globe, hailed it not only as the emancipation of a few struggling colonies, or of a race, but as the death note of despotism everywhere. Time has confirmed that verdict, and mankind rejoices to acknowledge the American patriots as benefactors of all their kind.
The government they established, as the result of the revolution they won, was a liberal government in every feature. It secured on the eternal basis of order the eternal principle of human freedom. Ever since it went into operation its effects have been beneficent. No citizen under it has ever had reason to complain of it; no foreign nation has ever been plundered or wronged by it; and the friends of liberty have always made it their model in the formation of new and free communities.
But it is against this wise, this upright, this inoffensive, this beneficent government that the southern rebels have taken their stand. They have done it, not in the interest of general humanity, but of a domestic despotism. Their end is not to unloose any chains from anybody's limbs, but to rivet them the firmer on a poor, helpless and despised race. Their motto is not liberty, but slavery. Their scheme is, not to extend the principles of popular government, but to build up a vast slaveholding military tyranny. Throughout the world their conduct excites no approval, but provokes rather odium and disgrace. No nation will ever hail them as benefactors, no individual of a long posterity ever rise up to call them blessed.
When Mr. Davis, then, compares his position with that of the fathers of the republic, he either wilfully falsifies history, or is made insane by a rotten conceit. He and his confederates are no more like Washington and his compeers than a Chimpanzee stealing an African baby is like Columbus discovering a new continent. We wonder, while he spoke, that the ghosts of those illustrious men did not cry shame from their graves.