CHAPTER III. THE CAUSES OF THE WAR.
I have seen various essays purporting to describe the causes of this civil war between the North and South; but they have generally been written with the view of vindicating either one side or the other, and have spoken rather of causes which should, according to the ideas of their writers, have produced peace, than of those which did, in the course of events, actually produce war. This has been essentially the case with Mr. Everett, who in his lecture at New York, on the 4th of July, 1860, recapitulated all the good things which the North has done for the South, and who proved - if he has proved anything - that the South should have cherished the North instead of hating it. And this was very much the case also with Mr. Motley in his letter to the London Times. That letter is good in its way, as is everything that comes from Mr. Motley, but it does not tell us why the war has existed. Why is it that eight millions of people have desired to separate themselves from a rich and mighty empire - from an empire which was apparently on its road to unprecedented success, and which had already achieved wealth, consideration, power, and internal well-being?
One would be glad to imagine, from the essays of Mr. Everett and of Mr. Motley, that slavery has had little or nothing to do with it. I must acknowledge it to be my opinion that slavery in its various bearings has been the single and necessary cause of the war; that slavery being there in the South, this war was only to be avoided by a voluntary division - secession voluntary both on the part of North and South; that in the event of such voluntary secession being not asked for, or if asked for not conceded, revolution and civil war became necessary - were not to be avoided by any wisdom or care on the part of the North.
The arguments used by both the gentlemen I have named prove very clearly that South Carolina and her sister States had no right to secede under the Constitution; that is to say, that it was not open to them peaceably to take their departure, and to refuse further allegiance to the President and Congress without a breach of the laws by which they were bound. For a certain term of years, namely, from 1781 to 1787, the different States endeavored to make their way in the world simply leagued together by certain articles of confederation. It was declared that each State retained its sovereignty, freedom, and independence; and that the said States then entered severally into a firm league of friendship with each other for their common defense. There was no President, no Congress taking the place of our Parliament, but simply a congress of delegates or ambassadors, two or three from each State, who were to act in accordance with the policy of their own individual States. It is well that this should be thoroughly understood, not as bearing on the question of the present war, but as showing that a loose confederation, not subversive of the separate independence of the States, and capable of being partially dissolved at the will of each separate State, was tried, and was found to fail. South Carolina took upon herself to act as she might have acted had that confederation remained in force; but that confederation was an acknowledged failure. National greatness could not be achieved under it, and individual enterprise could not succeed under it. Then in lieu of that, by the united consent of the thirteen States, the present Constitution was drawn up and sanctioned, and to that every State bound itself in allegiance. In that Constitution no power of secession is either named or presumed to exist. The individual sovereignty of the States had, in the first instance, been thought desirable. The young republicans hankered after the separate power and separate name which each might then have achieved; but that dream had been found vain - and therefore the States, at the cost of some fond wishes, agreed to seek together for national power rather than run the risks entailed upon separate existence. Those of my readers who may be desirous of examining this matter for themselves, are referred to the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States. The latter alone is clear enough on the subject, but is strengthened by the former in proving that under the latter no State could possess the legal power of seceding.
But they who created the Constitution, who framed the clauses, and gave to this terribly important work what wisdom they possessed, did not presume to think that it could be final. The mode of altering the Constitution is arranged in the Constitution. Such alterations must be proposed either by two-thirds of both the houses of the general Congress, or by the legislatures of two-thirds of the States; and must, when so proposed, be ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the States, (Article V.) There can, I think, be no doubt that any alteration so carried would be valid - even though that alteration should go to the extent of excluding one or any number of States from the Union. Any division so made would be made in accordance with the Constitution.