The Solemnity of the Spectacle
Philadelphia Inquirer, April 18, 1861
That in these last ages of human history, and amid a people whose civilization has been developed into the loftiest type, a deadly civil strife should suddenly break forth, and the noblest living races of men should be found arming against each other, and the fairest soil on the earth converted into a field of blood, is one of those awfully impressive events of which there are but few parallels in the track of time. We shudder now to contemplate it as it passes solemnly before us, just as we shudder at perusing even the narrative of similar catastrophes in the ages that have gone. It is an event full of significance from whatever point we view it. It will constitute an epoch in human history. Is it indeed true that our civilization, freedom, art and government, are but as a vast hollow crust, which human passion in a moment may trample into fragments? Is this fair external show of religion and science, grace and wealth, but a phantasmal delusion? Are the most refined and most barbarous, the civilized and the untutored, the free and the oppressed, the christian and the heathen, alike so sensual, brutal, devilish, as to forget all glory inherited from the past, ignore all self-acquired greatness, and disregard all the appealing voices from the bosom of futurity, and turn their trophied art and science into the enginery of destruction, and wade through slaughter towards each other's throats? Really it seems as if at the foundation of human nature there lay a principle of incarnate evil, which we may, indeed, varnish and gild over and strive to conceal with our religions, civilizations, and arts, but which, ever and anon, bursts through and shatters them all with the force of a volcano, and stands like a triumphant fiend to claim its own amid the most costly, sacred, and splendid ruins of society. What can equal the solemnity of the spectacle which presents to us the unimaginable horrors of civil war suddenly bursting upon a people the freest, wisest, best blooded, and most Christian ever gathered together into a nation? It is as if Hell had been transplanted into Eden.
It seems to convert the auguries of the past into a mockery, the hope of the present into bitterness, and the prophecies of the future into a lie. The philosopher is struck with awe as he surveys the scene in all its vast connections from his elevated point of observation. Cotemporary. nations behold with wonder the threatened disruption of the greatest people of its time; and should the United States of America pass from the present to the past, from the things that are to the things that have been, and her storied annals be consigned henceforward only to tradition, song and history, we may imagine the dead kings of departed nations stirred up to meet her at her coming with the taunt—Art thou also become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us?
We do not believe that this melancholy issue of all our greatness is so written in the book of fate, and we will endeavor by all the means that God and nature have put in our power, that it shall not be so written on the page of history. When we thus consider its bare possibility, what must be our estimate of those who would involve such a country in such a ruin? Viewed in this light, we are to regard that as no ordinary treason which now displays its horrid front. Treason, bad as it is at all times, is, nevertheless, capable of aggravation. Here, where a government has been erected which stands confessed the last, best birth of time—where all the problems of civil liberty are in process of successful solution—where political freedom is conducting her noblest experiment among men—where the victims of oppression abroad looked for an avenger and an ensample—where history and providence, man and nature, have joined in the prophecy that "Time's noblest offspring is his last"—treason assumes a blacker dye, and becomes not only treason against a particular form of government, but treason against the general cause of self-government, against the hopes of humanity and the interests of freedom among all people and for all ages to come. Its effect is not only to overthrow a government but to turn back the stream of human history.