A Glance at the Future

Portland Eastern Argus, December 12, 1860

Many speak of the withdrawal of four or five States from the Union as comparatively a trifling matter. “If they want to go, let them go; we can do well enough without them.” Such persons do not appear at all to realize the tremendous import of the proceeding of which they thus flippantly speak. Such a separation of five or more cotton States, will be but the first step in the certain downfall of the Republic. It will be a blow, the inevitable effect of which will be destruction to the national government.

Slavery will form so strong a bond of union, that all the slave States, save perhaps Delaware and Missouri, will soon be drawn into one confederacy, bound together in self-defense for the protection of their peculiar institution. Instead of a tariff upon imports, they will have a tariff upon exports,—will buy their manufactures in the cheapest market, and compel those who purchase cotton and other staples of which they would have nearly a monopoly, to pay duties on them for the support of their government.

The Northwest will have interests of its own. It is the granery of the continent. Those States will combine, insist upon free trade by the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence; will refuse to be taxed for the support of a navy; for forts and lighthouses on the Atlantic coast—will not agree to navigation laws, but will give their freights to those who carry cheapest; will buy their goods of those who can sell at lowest prices; will refuse to give bounties to fishermen—in a word, will object in all respects to become the servants or dependents of those whom they feed. New England, New York and Pennsylvania[,] which have derived more direct benefit from the Union than any other section, will suffer most in the breaking up and rearrangement of elements. Their interests would be too antagonistic for union and harmony in one confederacy. The article which we copy from the Albany (N. Y.) Atlas & Argus in another column, shows what the interests of New York would demand, and indicates the course she would probably pursue. States can well afford to make sacrifices to belong to a great confederacy like the United States. The importance it gives them among nations, the security against invasion by foreign armies, the protection of its flag to commerce, the advantages of internal free trade over so great a territory abounding in almost every variety of production, the scope it affords to manly ambition and far-reaching enterprise—all these and many other considerations make membership in the great Republic of incalculable advantage. The burdens and sacrifices imposed for its support are relatively but trifling, and are in inverse ratio to its greatness. But divide up and each curtailment reduces advantages, while it increases burdens until it will often occur that a State can stand alone better than in association with a few neighbors.

Such would be the condition of Maine with reference to the rest of New England. She would be far better alone than as a member of a New England confederacy. She is not largely engaged in the manufacture of cotton, but what she has would probably be destroyed by dissolution of the Union and the withdrawal of that protection which the present tariff affords. Her coasting trade would, of course, be damaged to the extent of the protection now afforded by navigations laws—perhaps destroyed. Her ships could not compete for foreign freights with those of powerful nations, for lack of a flag to protect them. Without a navy and unable to support one, Maine merchants would see their ships a prey to every free booter. But in the construction of vessels she could, with iron and cordage free of duty, still compete with the world, and might find a profitable business in the sale of first class ships to other nations. Her position is favorable for trade with the British Provinces; and, with her ports free, no small part of the trade of the great West would come to them. With unrestricted free trade, many of the Montreal merchants would establish themselves here for the more favorable transaction of their business. It would be by such a course that Maine could in small part offset the irreparable losses of disunion. To be tied to a New England confederacy, with tariff and other legislation to suit the interests of the other States would be ruin. She would then be but the poor tail to a very small kite. Alone, however, protected by the rigor of her climate, the sterility of her soil and the bravery of her people from being the prey of free booters, she might like Switzerland in modern Europe or like Attica in ancient Greece, maintain a noble independence and secure some degree of prosperity.

We have thus glanced at the future, not from any relish for such painful speculations, but because the probabilities are that we shall ere long have to meet these contingencies as stubborn facts. If the North could have been made to see whither she was drifting prior to the late election, she would have accepted the principles and candidates of the regular Democracy, and all would now have been peace and prosperity. If Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, had declared emphatically for Mr. Douglas in October, the majority of both Northern and Southern States would, in November, have ratified the doctrines of which he was the representative, and a settlement of all serious difficulties would have been secured. But so it was not, and what is past is beyond recall. Whether there can be any adjustment now is doubtful. It is certain that none better than that which the Democracy presented can now be secured. And if no adjustment, what then? Disunion, with all its humiliation, with all its disastrous consequences! No one can see the path to peace. The future is a labyrinth to the wisest, through which he cannot see his way. Let us trust in God that a way may be found. It does seem impossible that a nation, the equal of any on earth, in all the elements of material greatness, the superior of all others in the education and intelligence of the masses of its people—it does seem impossible that such a nation can be guilty of the stupendous folly, madness and crime of political suicide! We cannot believe it, even while we cannot see the least prospect of its being avoided. What would it be for? What good cause could, by possibility, be advantaged? Can you tell us, ye who have led on this “irrepressible conflict,” and who seem now ready to plunge us into the very jaws of destruction? If you cannot,—if you cannot give good reason for the terrible sacrifice, why not even now at the eleventh hour, awake from the blindness of infatuation, recall the dogs of war and proclaim peace and good will? Did not our fathers throw everything, even to life itself, upon the alter of their country? And are their sons unwilling to sacrifice mere petty prejudices, and petulant tempers to save the grandest heritage of any people so dearly purchased for us (not themselves) by the fathers, and which hitherto we have enjoyed? Can there be such ingrates—degenerate sons of patriot sires? God forbid! Our country forbid! Humanity forbid it!