The Moral of the War

Rockford Register, May 25, 1861

Among the many aspects of absorbing interest in which we may view the mighty contest now begun, its moral feature is by far the most grand. Physically, its prowess, its pageant and its pomp have brilliant attractions. Intellectually, its strategic, skillful and scientific maneuverings may frequently command our admiration and elicit our applause. But, morally, there is presented to us a truth and a lesson of such profound significance as to render all other considerations diminutive in comparison. It teaches us plainly and fully this one great lesson, so hard to be learned in our prosperous obstinacy, that contention, violence, and bloodshed have their beginnings, not upon the battle-field and during the present hour, but in the polite circles of polished men and women, in the council-chambers of diplomacy, and in the halls of legislation, it may be many years gone by, when the smooth surface of social life has not a ripple to disturb its quiet. Thus War is a master-philosophy, teaching by example, that violence in every case has its beginning in measures of injustice.

Let us make this plain. Every one knows that the civil war now upon us grew out of a persistent effort on the part of both Southern and Northern politicians to nationalize, extend, and perpetuate the slave system. Whenever this had a beginning, then it was that the war began. But this effort was manifest long before the politicians took the matter in hand. Our political heroes, as a general rule, are not the bravest of men; they seldom move far in advance of the multitude, whose presence is necessary to keep them in countenance. The measure of nationalizing slavery had its advocates in the drawing-rooms of our most influential citizens, and in the conferences and synods of nearly all ecclesiastical bodies, long before the politicians became bold enough to assume its advocacy. Men and women in all the higher and lower walks of life had begun to say in relation to it, "Am I my brother's keeper?" and it was not until these became sufficiently numerous to warrant the movement, that strong legislative measures were attempted to consummate the iniquity. It was not until the people had become cold and indifferent to the welfare of four millions of suffering fellow creatures in their midst, and, what is still worse, indifferent toward the purity of American Institutions and their country's honor, that the audacious attempt to subvert these altogether was ventured upon.

But then it was. The subject of slavery was unpopular; it was an exciting topic, leading to unpleasant results in conversation, and to be eschewed by all people of good breeding as a disturber of social order. The people consented to the injustice of the demands of the slave oligarchy, for the sake of peace, as they thought. And they went on consenting to those unjust demands until further consent was out of the question, when lo! the mask is thrown off, and these advocates of "peace," these contenders for "equal rights," are seen in all their deformity, the open enemies of all righteousness, whose claims, if longer heeded with favor, would pull down every barrier that had been raised against iniquity, and lay our whole beautiful system of government low in the dust!

But the war is writing this lesson in living characters, so that the present and all future generations may learn to know, that all unjust relations between man and man must, when persisted in, terminate sooner or later in violence. The grandeur of this view is seen in the evidence it affords of that perfect government above, which takes cognizance of, and overrules all the affairs of this lower world—a government firm and stable as the everlasting hills—sure to redress every wrong, and to administer the exact measure of justice to all, both small and great, forever. Human governments may fail and become corrupt, but here is a Tribunal whose righteous administration is sure and everlasting. This is the moral of the war.