CHAPTER IV. WASHINGTON TO ST. LOUIS.
I must confess that the difficulty of the position of the whole country seems to me to have been under-estimated in England. In common life it is not easy to arrange the circumstances of a divorce between man and wife, all whose belongings and associations have for many years been in common. Their children, their money, their house, their friends, their secrets have been joint property, and have formed bonds of union. But yet such quarrels may arise, such mutual antipathy, such acerbity and even ill usage, that all who know them admit that a separation is needed. So it is here in the States. Free soil and slave soil could, while both were young and unused to power, go on together - not without many jars and unhappy bickerings, but they did go on together. But now they must part; and how shall the parting be made? With which side shall go this child, and who shall remain in possession of that pleasant homestead? Putting secession aside, there were in the United States two distinct political doctrines, of which the extremes were opposed to each other as pole is opposed to pole. We have no such variance of creed, no such radical difference as to the essential rules of life between parties in our country. We have no such cause for personal rancor in our Parliament as has existed for some years past in both Houses of Congress. These two extreme parties were the slaveowners of the South and the abolitionists of the North and West. Fifty years ago the former regarded the institution of slavery as a necessity of their position - generally as an evil necessity, and generally also as a custom to be removed in the course of years. Gradually they have learned to look upon slavery as good in itself, and to believe that it has been the source of their wealth and the strength of their position. They have declared it to be a blessing inalienable, that should remain among them forever as an inheritance not to be touched and not to be spoken of with hard words. Fifty years ago the abolitionists of the North differed only in opinion from the slave owners of the South in hoping for a speedier end to this stain upon the nation, and in thinking that some action should be taken toward the final emancipation of the bondsmen. But they also have progressed; and, as the Southern masters have called the institution blessed, they have called it accursed. Their numbers have increased, and with their numbers their power and their violence. In this way two parties have been formed who could not look on each other without hatred. An intermediate doctrine has been held by men who were nearer in their sympathies to the slaveowners than to the abolitionists, but who were not disposed to justify slavery as a thing apart. These men have been aware that slavery has existed in accordance with the Constitution of their country, and have been willing to attach the stain which accompanies the institution to the individual State which entertains it, and not to the national government by which the question has been constitutionally ignored. The men who have participated in the government have naturally been inclined toward the middle doctrine; but as the two extremes have retreated farther from each other, the power of this middle class of politicians has decreased. Mr. Lincoln, though he does not now declare himself an abolitionist, was elected by the abolitionists; and when, as a consequence of that election, secession was threatened, no step which he could have taken would have satisfied the South which had opposed him, and been at the same time true to the North which had chosen him. But it was possible that his government might save Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri. As Radicals in England become simple Whigs when they are admitted into public offices, so did Mr. Lincoln with his government become anti-abolitionist when he entered on his functions. Had he combated secession with emancipation of the slaves, no slave State would or could have held by the Union. Abolition for a lecturer may be a telling subject. It is easy to bring down rounds of applause by tales of the wrongs of bondage. But to men in office abolition was too stern a reality. It signified servile insurrection, absolute ruin to all Southern slaveowners, and the absolute enmity of every slave State.
But that task of steering between the two has been very difficult. I fear that the task of so steering with success is almost impossible. In England it is thought that Mr. Lincoln might have maintained the Union by compromising matters with the South - or, if not so, that he might have maintained peace by yielding to the South. But no such power was in his hands. While we were blaming him for opposition to all Southern terms, his own friends in the North were saying that all principle and truth was abandoned for the sake of such States as Kentucky and Missouri. "Virginia is gone; Maryland cannot go. And slavery is endured, and the new virtue of Washington is made to tamper with the evil one, in order that a show of loyalty may be preserved in one or two States which, after all, are not truly loyal!" That is the accusation made against the government by the abolitionists; and that made by us, on the other side, is the reverse. I believe that Mr. Lincoln had no alternative but to fight, and that he was right also not to fight with abolition as his battle-cry. That he may be forced by his own friends into that cry, is, I fear, still possible. Kentucky, at any rate, did not secede in bulk. She still sent her Senators to Congress. and allowed herself to be reckoned among the stars in the American firmament. But she could not escape the presence of the war. Did she remain loyal, or did she secede, that was equally her fate.