The Last Struggle of Slavery
Springfield Daily Republican, December 22, 1860
Turning aside from the political aspects of the great question now before the American people, and looking at it in the light of history and divine Providence, there are in it matters for most serious consideration. Slavery seems to be gathering itself up for a decisive struggle. The moral forces of the world have long assailed it, and everywhere religion, morality and politics are against it. Its stronghold is in the southern states of this Union. Spain tolerates it in her colonies, but does not justify it, or attempt to surround it by moral sanctions. Some of the most barbarous of the African tribes practice it, and sell captives taken from each other to the Christians, because they want the trinkets and the rum the Christians offer in barter, but we are not aware that the king of Dahomey attempts any other justification than the old axiom, "might makes right." All the nations of the world, civilized and uncivilized, agree in the denunciation of the system that chattelizes men, buys and sells them, compels their unrequitted labor by the lash, and makes them the unwilling ministers to others' welfare instead of their own. It is the unanimous verdict of Christendom and heathendom alike, our southern states and the kingdom of Dahomey excepted, that the institution of slavery is the worst possible perversion of human relations and the most entire violation alike of natural and divine law. Only in this country is an attempt made to throw around the system the sanctions of religion and to uphold it as a good and proper thing in itself and worthy to be cherished, protected and extended over other lands, and this defense of slavery is not a quarter of a century old, even here. But notwithstanding the assumed confidence of the people of the South that their theory of slavery is correct, they evidently feel uneasy and annoyed under the verdict of mankind against it. This feeling has shown itself often in the heat of the present controversy, and there is no plea the secessionists make with more effect than this, that it is impossible to live under the same government with a people whose prejudices are so strongly against the southern institution. It is the desire to throw off, and get out of the reach of, this moral sentiment against slavery that accounts in part for the disunion feeling, and in no one class is this more apparent than among the clergymen and Christian professors of the South. Slavery thinks to hedge itself in, to shut out the great influences that are moulding society and government everywhere, and to set universal opinion at defiance.
We do not believe it can be done. Popular opinion is becoming more and more the great power in this world. Kings bow before it; bloodless revolutions are achieved by it; the European governments yield to its demands and confess its right to be heard, and even the most absolute, like Russia, formally acknowledge that the ultimate appeal is to the popular will. No man can fail to see that the popular judgment is becoming more and more respected, and that the great idea of the right of all men to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is fast becoming the universal doctrine. We do not believe that any human power can destroy this great element in the world's progress, and we look upon the triumphal march of ameliorating ideas and events as certain to go on to the grand consummation, the foresight of which has been the inspiration of prophets and poets from the beginning. The world will move straight forward in its course, and all the petty obstacles interposed by the will and wickedness of men and nations will be ground to dust beneath it.
Suppose the slaveholders should induce the politicians to give slavery all the new guaranties it can ask, even to the extent of declaring the right of property in men sacred and of divine authority. That declaration would not change northern opinion on the subject. On the contrary it would arouse it to new vigor and zeal for the moral assault upon the institution, and neither the general government nor the slave states would henceforth have a moment's rest from "irrepressible conflict" till the new guaranties were swept away. Suppose the southern states go out of the Union to escape northern aversion to slavery. That would not diminish, but rather intensify that aversion, and would set it free from all the constitutional restraints that now limit its action, and the crusade against the institution would environ the South on all sides, and while the slaves would have a free door of escape, the entire circuit of the slave states would be exposed to the inroads of popular opinion against slavery, and in the border slave states the progress of emancipation and deliverance from slavery would inevitably be greatly accelerated. Neither would the schemes of indefinite extension southward and westward be realized. The northern states would agree with the European powers in resisting all attempts by the slavery propagandists to appropriate Mexico or Central America. The same powers would prevent the acquisition of Cuba by the slaveholding confederacy, and the institution would find itself more effectually and more rapidly hemmed in and circumscribed than it could be in the Union. For whatever respect and toleration it now gets from other nations, it is chiefly indebted to the influence of the free states. Let it isolate itself and attempt to stand on its own merits, and it will find no aid and comfort from any Christian or civilized power.
Whichever way, therefore, the present struggle terminates, either in union or disunion, we look upon it as decisive as to the supremacy of slavery. In the Union, it must be content in its present limits and with its constitutional rights, and can never again subject the general government to its despotic control. Out of the Union, it will stand defenseless and exposed on all sides to the moral hostility of mankind, which it vainly seeks to evade. In the Union, it will live longer and die more gradually and quietly; out of the Union, its life will be one of constant peril and strife, and, like all great criminals, it will be pretty certain to come to a violent and bloody death. The day or the manner of its end no man can tell; but he knows little of human nature and human history, and lacks faith in the final reign of justice and truth on the earth, who does not see that no such institution can plant itself defiantly against the onward march of events and hope to escape collision and wreck. To see this and to say it frankly implies no hostility to slaveholders. It does not follow that they are the worst of men because born into the worst of institutions. With the most kindly and fraternal feelings towards them as men and fellow citizens, it does not follow that we should suppress our convictions of truth, or conceal what seem to us important facts; nay, it is the highest fidelity and the only honest style of kindness to tell them exactly what we think and to warn them frankly of the dangers that seem to lie in their present course. If they indignantly close their ears and rush on, it cannot be helped. Whatever befalls them, we have confidence in the final result, and can only doubt it when we renounce our faith in God, and abandon this world to the control of the powers of evil.