The Salutary Effects of the War
New York Herald, April 29, 1861
All are disposed to recognise the disastrous effects of war, particularly of civil war, in those States which become the theatre of action. But the ultimate beneficial influences of war to society are for the most part overlooked in its present devastations and horrors. In the wise arrangements of Providence war seems to be a necessity—the result of a natural law for the preservation of society—just as much as storms and tempests, and whirlwinds and thunder, are the results of natural laws, and purify the atmosphere and render it salubrious to man and beast, while partially destructive to both. Partial evil is universal good. Without war society would become stagnant and corrupt, just as would the air we breathe without the agitation of the winds.
Without war and the sufferings which it entails man would degenerate. Without war patriotism and heroism would die out from want of food. Without war society would become steeped in luxury and effeminacy, and the fighting element in the population, instead of being directed against a foreign foe, would be turned in upon itself, producing faction, and turbulence and disorder, or it would be sure to prey upon the peaceful and orderly portion of the community.
For half a century there has been no war on this soil, while our growth and prosperity have advanced too rapidly for health. Young America, North and South, was becoming almost spoiled for want of a fight. Had a foreign war sprung up it would have saved the country from the affliction of a civil war, and it would have had the effect of uniting the people from Maine to Texas as one man. The statesmen of Europe find it absolutely necessary to engage in war in order to preserve law and order, and to prevent continual insurrection and revolution. The combative, quarrelsome element is removed from society and set apart, under a separate martial government, and the severest discipline, to encounter a similar element separated from the mass of the people in another nation. Mutual destruction is the result, to the great benefit and tranquillity of both nations.
The governments of Europe are seldom at a loss for a pretext for war; but they would invent one rather than let a discontented population, impatient for activity, prey upon property, subvert law and order, and embark in schemes of rebellion. In the case of the United States there was no cause for discontent among the people, and war could not result from poverty. The chief cause of the present war is excessive prosperity. All were too happy and too well off—too much fullness of blood. A little phlebotomy is necessary to relieve the nation of its plethora. Foreign nations would not attack us, because it was not their interest to do so. As we could get nobody else to fight with us, we must pitch into each other, and embark in a semi-civil war, rather than have no war at all to gratify the fighting propensity.
When both sections have tried each other's mettle in a few battles, and both have suffered sufficiently from mutual extermination, then perhaps peace may be restored, and the belligerents may become better friends than ever, both having good reason to admire the pluck and courage of each other. The South in particular seems to be "blue moulded for want of a beating," and will never be satisfied of the warlike prowess of the North till it has felt its blows on the battle field. After that it may return to reason, and both sections may become one nation again, united in the bonds of mutual interest and respect for each other's rights—abolitionism and secession being put down together, and North and South, East and West, ceasing forever to be the designations of party or the synonyms of sectional animosity.
The effect of this war will be to consume party politics and its corruptions, and the country will come out of the fire like gold purified of its dross, better and brighter than ever, while the chastisement will suffice for the next half century, and the star of empire will continue to shine brightly in the West, the admiration and the hope of the human race in the worn out nations of the Old World.