The War Has Come!
Wilkes-Barre Luzerne Union, April 17, 1861
The papers brought us the news, last Saturday night, that the war had actually commenced in Charleston harbor, by the opening of the various batteries upon Major Anderson's command in Fort Sumpter, on Friday morning at half-past four o'clock. Painful though this news is, it is nevertheless true. Civil war has been inaugurated—"the dogs of war have been let loose," and every gale from the South now will "bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms." The American government has launched out upon an untried sea, and we fear without pilot or rudder. Following henceforth the red path of civil war and fraternal strife, that government "founded in deeds of peace" and for the beneficent objects of giving the blessings of liberty, equality and fraternity to all who might seek its protection, has turned its mighty enginery upon its own people and its own States. It is a terrible thought—a thought that must wring with anguish the heart of the patriot, that we are now in the midst of a bloody revolution, that will likely end in a total disruption of the government, drench our fields in fraternal blood, arm neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend—that in its fearful march will leave as its monuments, towns and cities sacked and in ashes, widows and children in mourning, and desolation and ruin everywhere.—But so it is: the stupendous folly—the monstrous iniquity of Slavery agitation in these States has culminated; and war, bloody, guilty, relentless war, now rears its horrid front in the pathway of our National advancement and glory. We shudder with shame and humiliation; we tremble with amazement at the unnatural spectacle, and involuntarily ask, why are the American people to-day in bloody collision? Why are we all at once curbed in our high career of peace and happiness, prosperity and concord, national glory and greatness, and driven to the dread alternative of revolution and civil war? There is one answer, and one alone. It is because we have disregarded the teachings of the fathers; it is because we have lost sight in the past of the true principles on which the government was founded—that of frowning upon sectionalism, granting equal rights to all and cultivating national affection and goodwill. A miserable fanaticism—a mock philanthrophy for the negro race—a senseless abstraction drawn from a false idea of human rights, used by the worst class of politicians and bigoted religionists to poison the public mind and inflame the passions of the people, has got possession of the government through the forms of constitutional provisions, and precipitated the natural results of its own madness and folly.
It is useless now to attempt to speculate upon the results of the future. The lessons of history give little encouragement to hope even for an end short of the overthrow of the government itself. We can hardly imagine a peaceful termination short of the sheer exhaustion of the belligerants . Blood has flown, madness rules the hour, the worst passions of human nature control the populace and there can be no telling what will be the end. And all for what? We ask this question with some hope that those who would not see and hear and believe in the past, standing now confronted with the horrid reality of their work, will pause and reflect as they never before reflected. Again we ask for what has this been brought about? The answer must come swelling up in the conscience of every honest American citizen—will be written upon every page of our country's future history, and will be echoed back to us from every government of the old world: you have destroyed the best government on earth—you have pulled down the pillars and prostrated the great temple of freedom—you have well-nigh buried the great hopes of humanity and the race connected with the perpetuity of civil and religious liberty, and with the advancement of liberal principles,—you have involved thirty millions of your own race and color in anarchy and civil war, for a mere abstraction growing out of negro slavery, and with no prospect, either, of making the condition of the negro better after all. This is true as Holy Writ; for it is a part of the history of this country already, that from the time this agitation broke out till the present, not an acre of soil has been saved from "the blight of slavery," not a slave has been saved, not a shackle unloosed. It has worked nothing but evil, and that continually. And yet in the face of this great fact, with a madness and zeal that knew no restraint or flagging, the agitation has been kept up. Reckless of consequences and heedless of the admonitions of patriotism—despising the warning voice of Washington—turning a deaf ear to the pleadings of the just and the good, down even to the present moment—crying out "dough-face" and other opprobrious epithets when the consequences we are now reaping were pointed out as sure to follow from their conduct, it has gone on. Is it any wonder that other nations, divested of passion and fanaticism, looking only at the practical side of the picture, seeing a great nation with a good government and a happy people—with high, gratifying and exciting hopes for the future before them, all, all, plunged into the very vortex of ruin, and utterly unable to give for themselves one solid practical reason for so doing, or one single object to be gained by the contest into which they have rushed. We say is it any marvel that other nations are appalled with wonder and amazement?
What stupendous madness! What an amazing crime! The history of nations furnishes no parallel. Governments have been often overthrown by civil war and internecine strife, but there has always been some practical object to contend about. Sometimes for the purpose of changing from republics to monarchies, or vice versa; or perhaps with a view to forward[ing] the claims of some chieftain; or to be rid of tyrants among rulers. Never before have a great, free and happy people plunged into civil war in the face of the overthrow of a government with which all were satisfied, and for no apparent object of good to be gained in the end.
To this poor use then we have come at last. The present is dark and dreadful—the future obscured and fearful, with uncertainty and danger. We will hope for the best, but we fear that even hope will not much longer cheer the hearts of those who love their whole country for their whole country's sake.