Effect of the War upon Moral and Material Improvement
New York Journal of Commerce, May 29, 1861
The public mind has been so much engrossed with the exciting scenes and circumstances connected with the changes in our national affairs, that few persons, we apprehend, have found time to reflect upon the damage to the moral and material condition of the people, which must be produced by a long continued state of hostilities. The patriotism of the entire country, North and South, has been aroused and cultivated to the highest pitch; but this has related chiefly to our political condition, and has been directed almost exclusively to providing the ways and means, not of assisting and developing, but of killing or destroying a portion of our fellow-citizens. We make no objection to patriotism, especially if it is sincere and disinterested, but rather glory in that sentiment so universally implanted in the hearts of the American people, which prompts them to defend their country and its institutions against all invaders. The chief difficulty at the present time, is not that there is too much of true patriotism, but that in too many instances it has taken the direction on one side or the other, and perhaps in too many instances on both sides, of a crusade against those who should be friends, rather than against a national or foreign enemy. As our remarks in this article are intended to be quite applicable to the whole country, and not particularly to either section, we may say thus much respecting the misdirected patriotism of the American people, without giving just cause of offence.
While the North and the South are thus preparing for and engaged in a conflict for political jurisdiction, and providing the most scientific and effective methods of shedding each other[']s blood, all the great moral questions of the day must remain in abeyance, or receive a shock from which they will be slow to recover, while the improvements in art and science, and in agriculture, which is our great material interest, must be neglected until a restoration of peace shall enable the people to return, not only to their accustomed pursuits, but to that channel of thought and reflection suited to their more rapid and perfect development. A state of War is not favorable to advancement in religion, morals, science, or improvement of any sort. This is true of War generally; but especially and emphatically so of a war which enlists the feelings and sympathies of all classes of people, and diverts their minds from other topics and duties.
The effect of the influences to which we allude, may be observed all around us. They are exhibited in the falling off of the attendance upon the Anniversaries of our religious and benevolent societies; in the contributions to these and kindred objects; in the desecration of the Sabbath, not only by those actually engaged in the army, but by large numbers of people, who, carried away by excitement, forget the sacredness of that day; in the prostitution of the pulpit to the encouragement of carnage and bloodshed and hate, and in the dissemination among the people of the country of bitterness and revenge and enmity towards those who should be brothers and friends.
In material affairs the influences of a state of war are no less disastrous. Improvements of all kinds are postponed or abandoned, public spirit is diverted from the prosecution of useful and beneficial works of almost every description, enterprise is suffered to flag, and the great interests of the country become stationary or retrograde. The entire resources and energies of the people will be called into requisition to provide men and means for carrying on the war, so that everything must flag and falter, or be utterly abandoned, until peace and prosperity shall be restored. The burdens cast upon the people, both of the United and the Confederate States, will be oppressive, and must bear heavily, not only upon the present but upon succeeding generations.
As one of the effects, disastrous in its character, of the present excitement, we may mention the circumstance that the various Agricultural Societies, or at least a portion of them, are discussing the expediency of omitting, for this year, their annual fairs. This is the case, we hear, with the New York State Agricultural Society, which has held regular annual exhibitions for a period of twenty years, but whose managers are now apprehensive that the unsettled condition of the country and the absorption of the public attention by matters connected with the war, may render it imprudent to incur the expense of holding an exhibition the present year. Such, we fear, may be the effect upon institutions of like character in other States, and also upon the operations of individuals devoted to the development of our agricultural resources and improvements.
The considerations to which we have alluded are applicable alike to both sections of the country, and will perhaps be equally potent in both, in arresting religious and benevolent effort, in demoralizing the public mind, and in paralyzing exertions for the promotion of the public good. When the present troubles shall be ended,—for we suppose, like all other evils, there must be an end to this war,—the philanthropist, the missionary of the Cross, and the public spirited citizen will find their work set back a quarter of a century, and the labors for placing them again in motion immeasurably augmented.