Part 4 out of 5
"You will stay and see Harry and Ernest?" asked Mrs. Schroder. "They
have gone to make the last arrangements."
"Not now," said Violet. "They will like to be alone with you. I will see
Ernest to bid him good-bye."
Two years passed away. At the end of this time Mrs. Schroder died. They
had passed on, as years go, slowly and quickly. Sometimes, as a carriage
takes us through narrow city-streets, and we look in at the windows we
are passing, we wonder at the close life that is going on behind them,
and we say to ourselves, "How slow the life must be within those
confined walls!" At other times, when our own life is cramped or jarred
by circumstances, we look with envy on the happy family-circles we see
smiling within, and have a fancy that the roses have fallen to others,
and we only have the thorns. There are full years, and there are years
of famine, just as there come moments to all that seem like a life-time,
and lives that hurry themselves away in a passing of the pendulum. It is
of no use to shake the hour-glass; yet, when we are counting upon time,
the sands hurry down like snow-flakes.
It was true, as Violet had foreboded, that Harry missed Ernest. He went
heavily about his work, and the house seemed silent without him. Harry
confessed this sadly to Violet, when his brother had been gone about a
year. They had heard from Ernest in Florence, that he was getting on
well. He had found occupation in the workshop of a famous sculptor, and
had time besides to carry out some of his own designs.
"He writes me," said Harry, "that he will be able now to support
himself, and that he does not need my help. Do you know, Violet, that
takes the life out of me? I feel as if I had nothing to work for. I
always felt a pride in working for Ernest, because I thought he was
fitted for something better. Violet, it saddens me to think he can do
without me. I go to my daily work; I lift my hammer and let it fall; but
it is all mechanically; there is no vital force in the blow. It is hard
to live without him."
"This is what I was afraid of," said Violet. "I was afraid he would
think he could do without us. But he cannot do without you."
"Say that he cannot do without _us_" said Harry; "for he needs you, as I
need you, and the question is, with which the need is greater."
Violet turned red and pale, and said,--
"We cannot answer that question yet."
After Mrs. Schroder died, it was sad enough in the old rooms. In the
daytime, when Harry was away at his work, Violet would go up-stairs and
put all things in order, and make them look as nearly as possible as
they did when the mother was there. Harry came to pass his evenings with
A few days after his mother's death, he said to Violet,--
"Is it not time for you to tell me that it is I who need you more than
Ernest? He writes very happily now. He is succeeding; he has an order
for his statue. He writes and thinks of nothing else but what he will
create,--of the ideas that have been waiting for an expression. I am a
carpenter still, I shall never be more, and my work will always be less
and lower than my love. Could you be satisfied with him? He has attained
now, Ernest has, what he was looking for; and have I not a right to my
The tears tumbled from Violet's eyes.
"Dear, noble Harry! I am not ready for you yet. I do believe he is above
us both, and satisfied to be above us both; but I am not ready yet."
A day or two afterwards, Harry brought Violet a letter from Italy. It
was from an artist friend of Ernest's, whose wife and mother had kindly
received him into their home. Carlo wrote now that Ernest had been taken
very ill. They thought him recovering, but he was still very low, and
his mind depressed, and he continued scarcely conscious of those around
him. He talked wildly, and begged that his home friends would come to
him; and though his new Italian friends promised him all that kindness
could give, Carlo wrote to ask if it were not possible for his brother
or his mother to come out. He had been working very hard, was just
finishing an order that had occupied him the last year, and he had
overtasked his mind as well as his body.
"You will go to him!" exclaimed Violet, when she had read the letter.
"If nothing better can be done," answered Harry. "Only yesterday I made
a contract for work with a hard master. It would be difficult to break
it; but I will do it gladly, if there is nothing better to be done."
"You mean that you would like to have me go to Ernest," said Violet.
"Will you go?" asked Harry. "That will be the very best thing."
Aunt Martha broke in here. She had been sitting quietly at the other
side of the table, as usual, apparently engrossed with her knitting.
"You do not mean to send Violet to Italy, and to take care of Ernest?"
she exclaimed. "What are you thinking of? I would never consent to
Violet's going alone; it would not be proper."
Violet grew crimson at the reproof. She was standing beneath the light,
and turned away her head.
"Not if I were Harry's betrothed?" she asked.
Aunt Martha looked up quickly. She saw the glad, relieved expression of
"If you are engaged to Harry, that is different, indeed!" she said.
It did make a difference in Aunt Martha's thoughts. In the first place,
it gave her pleasure. Harry was well-to-do in, the world. He would make
a good husband for Violet, and a kindly one. She liked him better than
she did Ernest. She had supposed Violet would marry one or other of the
boys, and, "just because things went at cross-grain in the world," she
had always supposed Violet would prefer Ernest. She had never liked him
herself. He was always spinning cobwebs in his brain; she never could
understand a word of his talk. She did not believe he would live, and
then Violet would be left a poor widow, as his mother had been left when
her Hermann died. She remembered all about that. Ernest's absence had
encouraged her with regard to Harry; but two years had passed, and it
seemed to her the two were no nearer an engagement.
But now it was settled; and if this foolish plan of Violet's going to
Italy had brought it about, the plan itself wore a different color.
Aunt Martha said no more of the impropriety. She reserved her
complainings for the subject of the trouble of getting Violet ready, all
of a sudden, for such a voyage.
Little trouble fell to Aunt Martha's share. Violet went about it gladly.
She advised directly with a friend who could tell her from experience
exactly how little she would want, while Harry completed all the
business arrangements. The activity, the adventure of it, suited
Violet's old tastes. She had no dread of a solitary voyage, of passing
through countries whose languages she could not speak. Though burdened
with anxiety for Ernest and for Harry, she went away with a glad heart.
Unconsciously to herself, she reversed her old exclamation, saying to
"The men, indeed, should not have all the work, and the women all the
The journey was in fact easily accomplished. At another time Violet's
thoughts would have been occupied with the scenes she passed through.
Now she travelled as a devotee travels heavenward, making a monastery of
the world, and convent-walls out of rays from Paradise. She thought
only of the end of her journey; and everything touched her through the
throbbings of her heart. On shipboard, she was busy with the poor old
sick father whom his children were carrying home to his native land. In
passing through Paris, she used all her time in helping a sister to find
a brother; because her energy was always helpful. In travelling across
France, she looked at her companions, asking herself to what home they
were going, what friends they were bound to meet. From Marseilles to
Leghorn, she was the only one of the women-passengers who was not sick;
and she was called upon for help in different languages, which she could
understand only through the teachings of her heart.
It was this same teacher that led her to understand Ernest's friends in
Florence, when she had found them, and that led them to understand her.
Ernest was in much the same state as when they wrote. He was growing
stronger, but his mind seemed to wander.
"And do you know, dear lady," said Monica, Carlo's mother, "that we fear
he has been starving,--starving, too, when we, his friends, had plenty,
and would have been glad to give him? He was to have been paid for his
work when he had finished it; and he had given up his other work for his
master, that be might complete his own statue. Oh, you should see that!
He is putting it into the marble,--or taking it out, rather, for it has
life almost, and springs from the stone."
"But Ernest?" asked Violet.
"Well, then, just for want of money, he was starving,--so the doctor
says, now. I suppose he was too proud to write home for money, and his
wages had stopped. And he was too proud to eat our bread. That was hard
of him. Just the poor food that we have, to think he should have been
too proud to let us give it him!--that was not kind."
Ernest did not recognize Violet at first, but she took her place in the
daily care of him. Monica begged that she would prepare food for him
such as he had been used to have at home. She was very sure that would
cure him. It would be almost as good for him as his native air. She
was very glad a woman had come to take care of him. "His brother's
betrothed,--a sister,--she would bring him back to life as no one else
Violet did bring him back to life. Ernest had become so accustomed to
her presence in his half-conscious state, that he never showed surprise
at finding her there. He hardly showed pleasure; only in her absence his
feverish restlessness returned; in her presence he was quiet.
He grew strong enough to come out into the air to walk a little.
"I must go to work soon," he said one day. "Monsieur will be coming for
"Your Psyche! I have not seen it!" exclaimed Violet. "I have not dared
to raise the covering."
They went in to look at it. Violet stood silent before it. Yes, as
Monica had said, it was ready to spring from the marble. It seemed
almost too spiritual for form, it scarcely needed the wings for flight,
it was ethereal already,--marble only so long as it remained unfinished.
At last Violet spoke.
"Do not let it go! Do not finish it; it will leave the marble then, I
know! Oh, Ernest, you have seen the spirit, and the spirit only! Could
not you hold it to earth more closely than that? It was too bold a
thought of you to try to mould the spirit alone. Is not the body
precious, too? Why wilt you be so careless of that?"
"If the body would care for me," said Ernest, "I would care for the
body. Indeed, this work shows that I have cared for the body," he went
on. "One of these days, I shall receive money for my work; I have
already sold my Psyche. One lives on money, you know. But it is but a
poor battle,--the battle of life. I shall finish my Psyche, give it to
the man who buys it, and then"----
"And then you will come home, come home to us!" said Violet; "and we
will take care of you. You shall not miss your Psyche!"
"And then," continued Ernest, shaking his head, "then I shall go into
Sicily. I shall help Garibaldi. I shall join the Italian cause."
"Garibaldi! The cause!" exclaimed Violet. "Are you not ashamed to plead
it? You know you would go then not for others, but to throw away your
own life! You are tired of living, and you seek that way to rid yourself
of life! Confess it at once!"
"Very well, then," answered Ernest, "it is so."
"Then do not sully a good cause with a traitor's help," said Violet,
"nor take its noble name. The life you offer would be worth no more than
a spent ball. You have been a coward in your own fight, and Garibaldi
does not--nor does Italy--want a coward in his ranks. Oh, Ernest,
forgive me my hard words! but it is our life that you are spending so
freely, it is our blood that you want to pour out! If you cannot live
for yourself, for me, will you not live for Harry's sake?"
"For you, for you, Heart's-Ease!" exclaimed Ernest, calling Violet by
one of her old childish names, "But Harry lives for you, and you for
him; and God knows there is no life left for me. But you are right: I am
a coward and a bungler, because I can create no life. I give myself to
you and him."
Violet stood long before the statue of Psyche, cold as the marble, with
hot fires raging within.
"He loves me, loves me as Harry does! His love is deeper,
perhaps,--higher, perhaps. He was not above me,--he lifted me above
himself, looked up to me! He dies for me!"
Presently she found Ernest.
"Ernest, you say you will do as we wish. I must go home directly, and
without you. I shall take a vessel from Leghorn. Harry and I planned my
going home that way. It is less expensive, more direct; and I confess I
do not feel so strong about going home alone as I did in coming. My head
is full of thoughts, and I could not take care of myself; but I would
rather go alone. You will stay here, and we will write to you, or Harry
will come for you. But you must take care of yourself; you must not
Her Italian friends accompanied her to the vessel and bade her good-bye,
Ernest was with them. She wrote to Harry the day she sailed. The vessel
looked comfortable enough; it was well-laden, and in its hold was the
marble statue of a great man,--great in worth as well as in weight.
A few weeks after Violet left, Harry appeared in Florence. He had just
missed her letter.
"I came to bring you both home," he said. "I finished my contract
successfully, and gave myself this little vacation."
Harry was dismayed to find that Violet was gone.
"But we will return directly, and arrive in time, perhaps, to greet her
as she gets home."
"But you must not keep him long. See how much he has done in Italy! You
will see he must come back again."
"Monsieur" had been for his statue, and was to send for it the next day,
more than satisfied with it.
Harry was astonished.
"Five hundred dollars! It would take me long enough to work that out!
Ah, Ernest, your hammering is worth more than mine!"
Harry's surprise was not merely for the money earned. When he saw the
white marble figure, which brought into the poor room where it stood
grandeur and riches and life and grace, he wondered still more.
"I see now," he said. "You spent your life on this. No wonder you were
starving when your spirit was putting itself into this mould!"
Harry was in a hurry to return. Ernest's little affairs were quickly
settled. Harry was surprised to find Italian life was so like home life
in this one thing: he had been treated so kindly, just as he would have
been in his own home,--just as Mrs. Schroder, and even Aunt Martha,
would have treated a poor Italian stranger who had sought a lodging in
their house; they had welcomed Harry with the same warmth and feeling
with which they had all along cared for Ernest. This was something that
Harry knew how to translate.
"When we were boys," he said to Ernest, as they set out to return, "and
you used to talk about Europe, we little thought I should travel into it
so carelessly as I did when I came here. I crossed it much as a pair of
compasses would on the map: my only points of rest were the home I left
and the one I was reaching for."
Much in the same way they passed through it again. Harry spoke of
and observed outward things, but everything showed that it was but a
superficial observation. His thoughts were with Violet.
"'The Nereid!' are you very sure the Nereid is a sound vessel?" he often
"What should I know of the Nereid?" at last answered Ernest,
"I believe you don't care a rush for Violet!" cried Harry. "You can have
dreams instead! Your Psyche, your winged angels and all your visions,
they suffice you. While for me,--I tell you, Ernest, she is my flesh and
blood, my meat and drink. To think of her alone on that ocean drives me
wild; that inexorable sea haunts me night and day." He turned to look at
Ernest, and saw him pale and livid.
"God forgive me!" he said. "I know you love her, too! But it is our old
quarrel; we cannot understand each other, yet cannot live either of us
without the other. Yet I am glad to quarrel even in the old way. That is
pleasant, after all, is it not?"
They had a long, stormy voyage home; and a delay in crossing France had
made them miss the steamer they hoped to take. At each delay, Ernest
grew more silent, sadder, his face darker, his features thinner and more
sharpened. Harry was wild in his impatience, and angry, but more and
more thoughtful and careful for Ernest.
At last they reached the harbor. A friend met them who had been warned
of their arrival by telegraph from Halifax. He met them to tell them of
ill news; they would rather hear it from him.
The Nereid was lost,--lost just outside the Bay,--the vessel, the crew,
all the passengers,--in a fearful storm of a week ago, the very storm
that had delayed their own passage.
"Let us go home," said Harry. "Where is it?" asked Ernest. "Why were we
not lost in the same storm?" cried Harry. "How could we pass quietly
along the very place?"
The brothers went home into the old room. Kindly hands had been caring
for it,--had tried to place all things in their accustomed order. Even
the canary had come back from Aunt Martha's parlor.
There was a letter on the table. Harry saw that only. It was Violet's
letter, which she wrote on leaving Leghorn. He tore it from its
cover,--then gave it, opened, to Ernest.
"You must read it for me,--I cannot!" and he hurried into an inner room.
Ernest held the letter helplessly and looked round. For him there was
a double desolation in the room. The books stood untouched upon the
shelves; his mother's work-basket was laid aside. Suddenly there came
back to him the memory of that last day at home,--the joyous spring-day
in March,--which was so full of gay sounds. The clatter of the dropping
ice, the happy laugh of the water breaking into freedom, the song of the
canary, now hushed by the presence of strangers,--the thoughts of these
made gay even that moment of parting. And with them came the image of
the dear mother and of the warm-hearted Violet. Oh, the parting was
happier than the return! Now there was silence in the room, and
absence,--such unuse about all things,--such a terrible stillness! He
longed for a voice, for a sound, for words.
In his hands were words, her own, her last words. Half unconsciously he
read through the letter, as if unwillingly too, because it might not
belong to him. Yet they were her words, and for him.
"Do you know that I love him?--that I love Ernest? I ought to have known
it, just because I did not know how to confess it to myself or you. I
thought he was above us both; and when I pitied myself that he could not
love me, I pitied you, and my pity, perhaps, I mistook for love of you.
Perhaps I mistook it, for I know not but I was conscious all the time of
loving him. I learned the truth when I stood by the side of his Psyche,
and saw, that, though she hovered from the marble, though he had won
fame and success, he was unsatisfied still. It is true, he must always
remain unsatisfied, because it is his genius that thirsts, and it is my
ideal that he loves, not me. But he is dying; he asks for me. You never
could refuse him what he asked. You will give me to him? If you were not
so generous and noble-hearted, I could not ask you both for your pardon
and your pity. But you are both, and will do with me as you will.
As Ernest finished reading, as he was fully comprehending the meaning of
the words which at first had struck him idly, Harry opened the door and
came in. Ernest could not look up at first. He thought, perhaps, he was
about to darken the sorrow already heavy enough upon his brother.
But when Harry spoke and Ernest looked into his face, he saw there the
usual clear, strong expression.
"I am going to tell you, Ernest, what I should have said before,--what I
went to Florence to tell you.
"After Violet left, the whole truth began to come upon me. She loved
you; I had no right to her. She pitied me; that was why she clung to
me. You know I cannot think quickly. It was long before it all came out
clearly; but when it did come, I was anxious to act directly. I had
finished my work; I went to tell you that Violet was yours; she should
stay with you in that warm Italian sir that you liked so much; she
should bring you back to life. But I was too late. I know not if it is
my failure that has brought about this sorrow, or if God has taken it
into His own hands. I only know that she was yours living, she is yours
now. I must tell you that in the first moment of that terrible shock of
the loss, there came a wicked, selfish gleam of gladness that I had not
given her up to you. But I have wiped that out with my tears, and I can
tell you without shame that is yours, that I have given her to you."
"We can both love her now," said Ernest.
"If she were living, she might have separated us," said Harry; "but
since God has taken her, she makes us one."
And the brothers read together Violet's letter.
* * * * *
THE NEW ATLANTIC CABLE.
When the indefatigable Cyrus told our people, five years ago, that he
was going to lay a telegraph-cable in the bed of the ocean between
America and Europe, and place New York and London in instantaneous
communication, our wide-awake and enterprising fellow-citizens said very
coolly that they should like to see him do it!--a phrase intended to
convey the idea that in their opinion he had promised a great deal more
than he could perform. But Cyrus was as good as his word. The cable was
laid, and worked for the space of three weeks, conveying between the Old
and New World four hundred messages of all sorts, and some of them of
the greatest importance. Four years have elapsed since the fulfilment
of that promise, and now Mr. Field comes again before the public and
announces that a new Atlantic cable is going to be laid down, which
is not only going to work, but is to be a permanent success; and this
promise will likewise be fulfilled. You may shrug your shoulders, my
friend, and look incredulous, but I assure you the grand idea will be
realized, and speedily. I have been heretofore as incredulous as any
one; but having examined the evidence in its favor, I am fully convinced
not only of the feasibility of laying a cable, and of the certainty
of its practical operation when laid, but of its complete
indestructibility. If you will accompany me through the following
pages, my doubting friend, I will convince you of the correctness of my
When the fact of the successful laying of the old Atlantic cable was
known, there was no class of people in this country more surprised at
the result than the electricians, engineers, and practical telegraphers.
Meeting a friend of mine, an electrician, and who, by the way, is also
a great mathematician, and, like all of his class, inclined to be very
exact in his statements, I exclaimed, in all the warmth and exuberance
of feeling engendered by so great an event,--
"Isn't it glorious, this idea of being able to send our lightning across
the ocean, and to talk with London and Paris as readily as we do with
New York and New Orleans?"
"It is, indeed," responded my friend, with equal enthusiasm; "my hopes
are more than realized by this wonderful achievement."
"Hopes realized!" exclaimed I. "Why, I didn't consider there was one
chance in a thousand of success,--did you?"
"Why, yes," replied my exact mathematical friend; "I didn't think the
chances so much against the success of the enterprise as that. From the
deductions which I drew from a very careful examination of all the facts
I could obtain, I concluded that the chances of absolute failure were
about ninety-seven and a half per cent.!"
For many of the facts contained in this article I am indebted to the
very clear and able address delivered by Mr. Cyrus W. Field before the
American Geographical and Statistical Society, at Clinton Hall, New
York, in May last, upon the prospects of the Atlantic telegraph.
At the start, of course, every one was very ignorant of the work to be
done in establishing a telegraph across the ocean. Submarine telegraphy
was in its infancy, and aerial telegraphy had scarcely outgrown its
swaddling-clothes. We had to grope our way in the dark. It was only by
repeated experiments and repeated failures that we were able to find out
all the conditions of success.
The Atlantic telegraph, it is said by some, was a failure. Well, if it
were so, replies Mr. Field, I should say (as is said of many a man, that
he did more by his death than by his life) that even in its failure it
has been of immense benefit to the science of the world, for it has been
the great experimenting cable. No electrician ever had so long a line to
work upon before; and hence the science of submarine telegraphy never
made such rapid progress as after that great experiment. In fact, all
cables that have since been laid, where the managers availed themselves
of the knowledge and experience obtained by the Atlantic cable, have
been perfectly successful. All these triumphs over the sea are greatly
indebted to the bold attempt to cross the Atlantic made four years ago.
The first Atlantic cable, therefore, has accomplished a great work in
deep-sea telegraphy, a branch of the art but little known before. In one
sense it was a failure. In another it was a brilliant success. Despite
every disadvantage, it was laid across the ocean; it was stretched from
shore to shore; and for three weeks it continued to operate,--a time
long enough to settle forever the scientific question whether it was
possible to communicate between two continents so far apart. This was
the work of the first Atlantic telegraph; and if it lies silent at the
bottom of the ocean till the destruction of the globe, it has done
enough for the science of the world and the benefit of mankind to
entitle it to be held in honored and blessed memory.
Now, as to the prospect of success in another attempt to lay a telegraph
across the ocean. The most erroneous opinions prevail as to the
difficulties of laying submarine telegraphs in general, and securing
them against injury. It is commonly supposed that the number of failures
is much greater than of successes; whereas the fact is, that the later
attempts, where made with proper care, have been almost uniformly
successful. In proof of this I will refer to the printed "List of all
the Submarine Telegraph-Cables manufactured and laid down by Messrs.
Glass, Elliot, & Co., of London," from which it appears that within the
space of eight years, from 1854 to 1862, they have manufactured and laid
down twenty-five different cables, among which are included three of
the longest lines connecting England with the Continent,--namely, from
England to Holland, 140 miles, to Hanover, 280 miles, and to Denmark,
368 miles,--and the principal lines in the Mediterranean,--as from Italy
to Corsica and thence to Toulon, from Malta to Sicily, and from Corfu to
Otranto, and besides these, the two chief of all, that from France to
Algiers, 520 miles, laid in 1860, and the other, laid only last year,
from Malta to Alexandria, 1,535 miles! All together the lines laid by
these manufacturers comprise a total of 3,739 miles; and though some
have been lying at the bottom of the sea and working for eight years,
each one of them is at this hour in as perfect condition as on the day
it was laid down, with the exception of the two short lines laid in
shallow water along the shore between Liverpool and Holyhead, 25 miles,
and from Prince Edward's Island to New Brunswick, 11 miles; the latter
of which was broken by a ship's anchor, and the former by the anchor
of the Royal Charter during the gale in which she was wrecked, both of
which can be easily repaired.
Where failures have occurred in submarine telegraphs, the causes are now
well understood and easily to be avoided. Thus with the first Atlantic
cable, its defects have all been carefully investigated by scientific
men, and may be easily guarded against. When this cable was in process
of manufacture in the factory of Messrs. Glass, Elliot, & Co., in
Greenwich, near London, it was coiled in four large vats, and there
left exposed, day after day, to the heat of a summer sun, which was
intensified by the tarred coating of the cable to one hundred and twenty
degrees. This went on, day after day, with the knowledge of the engineer
and electrician of the company, although the directors had given
explicit orders that sheds should be erected over the vats to prevent
the possibility of such an occurrence. As might have been foreseen, the
gutta-percha was melted, so that the conductor which it was desired to
insulate was so twisted by the coils that it was left quite bare in
numberless places, thus weakening, and eventually, when the cable
was submerged, destroying the insulation. The injury was partially
discovered before the cable was taken out of the factory at Greenwich,
and a length of about thirty miles was cut out and condemned. This,
however, did not wholly remedy the difficulty, for the defective
insulation became frequently and painfully apparent while the cable was
being submerged. Still further evidence of its imperfect condition was
afforded when it came to be cut up for charms and trinkets.
The first cable was, to a great extent, an experiment,--a leap in
the dark. Its material and construction were as good as the state of
knowledge at that time provided, and in many respects not unsuitable;
but the company could not avail itself, at that time, of the instruments
or apparatus for testing its conducting power and insulation, in the
manner since pointed out by experience. The effects of temperature,
as we have seen, were not provided for. The vast differences in the
conducting power of copper were discovered only by means of that cable,
when made. The mathematical law whereby the proportions of insulation to
conduction are determined had not been fully investigated; and it was
even argued by some of the pretended electricians in the employ of the
company, that, the smaller the conductor, the more rapidly the current
could pass through it. No mode of protecting the external sheath from
oxidation had then been discovered; and the kind of machinery necessary
for submerging cables in deep water could only be theoretically assumed.
Looking back to that period, and granting that there was too much haste
in the preparations, and that other mistakes were committed which could
now be foreseen and avoided, it is not too much to say, that, if that
cable could be laid and worked, as was done, after one failure in 1857,
and the consequent uncoiling and storage of it in an exposed situation,
and after three attempts in 1858, under the most fearful circumstances
as to weather, it would be an easy task to lay a cable constructed and
submerged by the light of present experience.
[Illustration: The Cable laid in 1858.]
[Illustration: The proposed New Cable.]
The above cuts, representing sections of the cable laid in 1858 and the
proposed new cable, will serve to show the difference between the two,
and the immense superiority of the latter over the former. In the old
Atlantic cable the copper conducting-wire weighed but ninety-three
pounds to the mile, while in the new cable it weighs five hundred and
ten pounds to the mile, _or more than five times as much_. Now the size,
or diameter, of a telegraphic conductor is just as important an item, in
determining the strength of current which can be maintained upon it with
a given amount of battery-force, as the length of the conductor. To
produce the effects by which the messages are expressed at the end of
a telegraphic wire or cable, it is necessary that the electric current
should have a certain intensity or strength. Now the intensity of the
current transmitted by a given voltaic battery along a given line of
wire will decrease, other things being the same, in the same proportion
as the length of the wire increases. Thus, if the wire be continued for
ten miles, the current will have twice the intensity which it would
have, if the wire had been extended to a distance of twenty miles. It is
evident, therefore, that the wire may be continued to such a length that
the current will no longer have sufficient intensity to produce at the
station to which the despatch is transmitted those effects by which the
language of the despatch is signified. _But the intensity of the current
transmitted by a given voltaic battery upon a wire of given length will
be increased in the same proportion as the area of the section of the
wire is augmented_. Thus, if the diameter of the wire be doubled, the
area of its section being increased in a fourfold proportion, the
intensity of the current transmitted along the wire will be increased in
the same ratio. The intensity of the current may also be augmented by
increasing the number of pairs of the generating plates or cylinders
composing the galvanic battery.
All electrical terms are arbitrary, and necessarily unintelligible
to the general reader. I shall, therefore, use them as sparingly as
possible, and endeavor to make myself clearly understood by explaining
those which I do use.
All telegraphic conductors offer a certain resistance to the passage of
an electric current, and the amount of this resistance is proportional
to the length of the conductor, and inversely to its size. In order to
overcome this resistance, it is necessary to increase the number of
the cells in the battery, and thus obtain a fluid of greater force or
On aerial telegraph-lines this increase in the intensity of the battery
occasions no particular inconvenience, other than by tending to the more
rapid destruction of the small copper coils, or helices, employed;
but upon submarine lines it has the effect of increasing the static
electricity, or electricity of tension, which accumulates along the
surface of the gutta-percha covering of the conducting-wire, in the same
manner as static electricity accumulates on the surface of glass, or of
a stick of sealing-wax, by rubbing it with a piece of cloth. The use of
submarine or of subterranean conductors occasions, from the above cause,
a small retardation in the velocity of the transmitted electricity. This
retardation is not due to the length of the path which the electric
current has to traverse, since it does not take place with a conductor,
equally long, insulated in the air; but it arises from a static
reaction, caused by the passage of an intense current through a
conductor well insulated, but surrounded outside its insulating coating
by a conducting body, such as sea-water or moist ground, or even by the
metallic envelope of iron wires placed in communication with the ground.
When this conductor is presented to one of the poles of a battery, the
other pole of which communicates with the ground, it becomes charged
with static electricity, like the coating of a Leyden-jar,--electricity
which is capable of giving rise to a discharge-current, even after the
voltaic current has ceased to be transmitted. Volta showed in one of his
beautiful experiments, that, in putting one of the ends of his pile
in communication with the earth, and the other with a non-insulated
Leyden-jar, the jar was charged in an instant of time to a degree
proportional to the force of the pile. At the same time an instantaneous
current was observed in the conductor between the pile and the jar,
which had all the properties of an ordinary current. Now it is evident
that the subaqueous wire with its insulating covering may be assimilated
exactly to an immense Leyden-jar. The glass of the jar represents the
gutta-percha; the internal coating is the surface of the copper wire;
the external coating is the surrounding metallic envelope and water. To
form an idea of the capacity of this new kind of battery, we have only
to remember that the surface of the wire is equal to fourteen square
yards per mile. Bringing such a wire into communication by one of its
ends with a battery, of which the opposite pole is in contact with the
earth, whilst the other extremity of the wire is insulated, must cause
the wire to take a charge of the same character and tension as that of
the pole of the battery touched by it.
These currents of static induction are proportional in intensity to
the force of the battery and the length of the wire, whilst an inverse
relation is true as regards the length of the conductor with the
ordinary voltaic current.
Professor Wheatstone proved, by actual experiment, that a continuous
current may be maintained in the circuit of the long wire of an
electric cable, of which one of the ends is insulated, whilst the other
communicates with one of the poles of a battery, whose other pole is
connected with the ground. This current he considers due to the uniform
and continual dispersion of the statical electricity with which the wire
is charged along its whole length.
It was mainly owing to the retardation from this cause that
communication through the Atlantic cable was so exceedingly slow and
I will now endeavor to show why the new cable will not be liable to this
difficulty, to anything like the same extent.
I have alluded to the resistance offered by the conductor of a
telegraph-cable to the passage of an electric current, and to the
retardation of this current by static induction. The terms _retardation_
and _resistance_ are not considered technically synonymous, but are
intended, as electrical terms, to designate two very different forces.
The resistance of a wire, as we have seen above, is proportional to its
length, and inversely to its diameter. It is overcome by increasing the
number of cells in the battery, or, in other words, by increasing the
intensity or force of the current. The retardation in a telegraphic
cable, on the contrary, is proportional to the length of the
conducting-wire and the intensity of the battery. In the former case, by
increasing the electrical force you overcome the resistance; while
in the latter, by augmenting the electrical force you increase the
From the foregoing law it will be seen that there are two ways of
lessening the resistance upon telegraphic conductors,--one by reducing
the length, and the other by increasing the area of the section of the
conducting-wire. Now, as already remarked, the copper conducting-wire in
the old cable weighed but ninety-three pounds to the mile, while in the
new cable it weighs five hundred and ten pounds to the mile, or more
than five times as much. If, then, by comparison, we estimate the
resistance in the old Atlantic cable to have been equal to two
thousand miles of ordinary telegraph-wire, the increased size of the
conducting-wire of the new cable reduces the resistance to one-fifth
that distance, or four hundred miles. And while it required two hundred
cells of battery to produce intensity sufficient to work over the two
thousand miles of resistance in the old cable, it will require but
one-fifth as much, or forty cells, to overcome the four hundred miles
of resistance in the new cable. The retardation which resulted from
the intense current generated by two hundred cells will be also
proportionately reduced in the comparatively small battery of forty
cells. Thus we perceive, that, while the length of the cable is,
electrically and practically, reduced to one-fifth of its former length,
the retardation of the current is also decreased in the same proportion.
Therefore, if, with the old cable, three words per minute could be
transmitted, with the new cable we shall be able to transmit five times
as many, or fifteen words per minute. This is not equal to our Morse
system on the land-lines, which will signal at the rate of thirty-five
words per minute, still less to the printing system, which can signal at
the rate of fifty words per minute; but, even at this rate, the
cable would be enabled to transmit in twenty-four hours one thousand
despatches containing an average of twenty words apiece. Mr. Field,
however, claims for the cable a speed of only twelve words per minute,
which would reduce the number of despatches of twenty words each
that could be transmitted in twenty-four hours to eight hundred and
sixty-four. We will suppose, however, that the cable transmits only five
hundred telegrams per day; this number, at ten dollars per message,
would give an income of five thousand dollars per diem, or one million
five hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars per annum. Quite a handsome
revenue on an outlay of about one million of dollars!
The only instrument which could be used successfully in signalling
through the old cable was one of peculiar construction, called the
Marine Galvanometer. In this instrument, momentum and inertia are almost
wholly avoided by the use of a needle weighing only one and a half
grains, combined with a mirror reflecting a ray of light, which
indicates deflections with great accuracy. By this means a gradually
increasing or decreasing current is at each instant indicated at its
due strength. Thus, when this galvanometer is placed as the
receiving-instrument at the end of a long submarine cable, the movement
of the spot of light, consequent on the completion of a circuit through
the battery, cable, and earth, can be so observed as to furnish a curve
representing very accurately the arrival of an electric current. Lines
representing successive signals at various speeds can also be obtained,
and, by means of a metronome, dots and dashes can be sent with nearly
perfect regularity by an ordinary Morse key, and the corresponding
changes in the current at the receiving end of the cable accurately
A system of arbitrary characters, similar to those used upon the Morse
telegraph, was employed, and the letter to be indicated was determined
by the number of oscillations of the needle, as well as by the length of
time during which the needle remained in one place. The operator, who
watched the reflection of the deflected needle in the mirror, held a key
in his hand communicating with a local instrument in the office, which
he pressed down or raised, according to the deflection of the needle;
and another operator deciphered the characters thus produced upon the
paper. This mode of telegraphing was, of necessity, very slow, and it
will not surprise the reader that the fastest rate of speed over the
cable did not exceed three words per minute. Still, had the old cable
continued in operation a few months longer, experience and practice
would have enabled the operator to transmit and receive with very much
greater facility. On our land-lines, operators of long experience
acquire a dexterity which enables them not only to transmit and receive
telegrams with wonderful rapidity, but to work the instruments during
storms, when those of less experience would be unable to receive a dot.
There is no occupation in which skill and experience are more necessary
to success than in that of telegraphing, and at the time the Atlantic
cable was laid no experience had been obtained upon similar lines, or
with the instruments employed. Now, however, the company can avail
itself of experienced operators from lines of nearly equal length, and
who will require no time for experimenting, but may commence operations
as soon as the two ends of the cable are landed upon the shores of
Europe and America.
In the old cable the copper wire was covered but three times with
gutta-percha, while in the new it is covered four times with the purest
gutta-percha and four times with Chatterton's patent compound, by which
the cable is rendered absolutely impenetrable to water. The old cable
was covered with eighteen strands of small iron wire, which, as they had
no other covering, were directly exposed to the action of the water. The
new is covered with thirteen strands, each strand consisting of three
wires of the best quality, and covered with gutta-percha, to render it
indestructible in salt water. By this new construction, it has double
the strength of the old cable, at the same time that it is lighter in
the water, a very important matter in laying it across the ocean.
The risk of loss in laying the new cable would be very much diminished
by the fact that it would be of such strength, that, even if broken, it
could be recovered, as has been done in the Mediterranean; and besides,
the principal and most expensive materials, copper and gutta-percha,
being indestructible, would have at all times a market value.
Other routes to Europe have been proposed, and have been at times quite
popular, the most feasible of which are those _via_ Behring's Straits,
or the Aleutian Islands, and _via_ Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, and the
To the route _via_ Behring's Straits there are several grave objections.
The distance from New York to London by a route crossing the three
continents of America, Asia, and Europe, is about eighteen thousand
miles, or more than nine times as great as that from Newfoundland to
Ireland. Of course, the mere cost of constructing a continuous telegraph
three-quarters of the distance around the globe, and of maintaining
the hundreds of stations that would be necessary over such a length
of land-lines, would be enormous. But even that is not the chief
difficulty. A line which should traverse the whole breadth of Siberia
would encounter wellnigh insuperable obstacles in the country itself, as
it would have to pass over mountains and across deserts; while, as it
turned north to Kamtschatka, it would come into a region of frightful
cold, where winter reigns the greater part of the year. Of this whole
country a large part is not only utterly uncivilized, but uninhabited,
and portions which are occupied are held by savage and warlike tribes.
Of the Greenland route, Doctor Hayes, the well-known Arctic traveller,
expresses himself in the most decided manner, that it is wholly
impracticable. He says it must be obvious that the ice which hugs
the Greenland coast will prevent a cable, if laid, from remaining in
continuity for any length of time. Doctor Wallich, naturalist attached
to Sir Leopold McClintock's expedition to survey the Northern route,
considers it impracticable on account of the volcanic nature of the
bottom of the sea near Iceland, and the ridges of rock and the immense
icebergs near Greenland.
The main argument in favor of this route, in preference to the more
direct one across the Atlantic, is, that it would be impossible to work
in one continuous circuit a line so long as that from Newfoundland to
Ireland. This would seem to be answered sufficiently by the success of
the old Atlantic cable. But it is alleged that it worked slowly and with
difficulty, which is true, and hence it is thought that the distance
would be at least a very great obstacle. But we have shown, that,
practically, by the increased size of the conducting-wire, the new cable
has been reduced in length four-fifths, and will work five times as fast
as the old one. The cable extending from Malta to Alexandria is fifteen
hundred and thirty-five miles long, and the whole of this line can be
worked through without relay or repetition in a satisfactory manner, as
regards both its scientific and commercial results, and with remarkably
low battery-power. The Gutta-Percha Company, which made the core of this
cable, says that a suitably made and insulated telegraph-conductor, laid
intact between Ireland and Newfoundland, can be worked efficiently, both
in a commercial and scientific sense, and they are prepared to guaranty
the efficient and satisfactory working of a line of the length of
the Atlantic cable as manufactured by themselves, and submerged and
maintained in that state.
It can be shown by the testimony and experience of those most eminent in
the science and practice of oceanic telegraphy, that neither length of
distance, within the limits with which the Atlantic Company has to
deal, nor depth of water, is any insuperable impediment to efficient
communication by such improved conductors of electricity as are now
proposed to be laid down. All those who are best able to form a sound
opinion, from long-continued experimental researches on this particular
point, are willing to pledge their judgment, that, on such a length of
line as that between Ireland and Newfoundland, and with such a cable and
such improved instruments as are now at command, not less than twelve
words per minute could be transmitted from shore to shore, and that this
may be done with greatly diminished battery-power as compared with that
I think I have shown by facts, and not theory merely, that the Atlantic
cable can and will be successfully laid down and worked, thus supplying
the long-needed link between the three hundred thousand miles of
electric telegraph already in operation on the opposite shores of the
There are many of our people who are inclined to look coldly upon this
enterprise, from a conviction that it would give Great Britain an undue
advantage over us in case war should occur between the two countries,
and I confess to having entertained the same views; but the case is so
well put by Mr. Field, in his address before the American Geographical
Society, as, in my judgment, to relieve every apprehension upon this
The relative geographical position of the two countries cannot be
changed. It so happens, that the two points on the opposite sides of
the Atlantic nearest to each other, and which are therefore the natural
termini of an ocean telegraph, are both in British territory. Of
course, the Government which holds both ends can control the use of the
telegraph, or stop it altogether. It has the power, and the only check
upon the abuse of that power must be by a treaty, made beforehand. Shall
we refuse to aid in constructing the line, for fear that England, in
the exasperation of a war, would disregard any treaty stipulations in
reference to its use? Then we throw away our only security. For, suppose
a war to break out to-morrow, the first step of England would be to lay
a cable herself, for her own sole and exclusive benefit. Then she
would not only have the control, but would be unrestrained by any
treaty-obligations binding her to respect the neutrality of the
telegraph. We should then find this great medium of communication
between the two hemispheres, which we might have made, if not an ally,
at least a neutral, turned into a powerful antagonist.
Would it not, therefore, be better that such a line of telegraph should
be constructed by the joint efforts of both countries, and be guarded
by treaty-stipulations, so that it might be placed, as far as possible,
under the protection of the faith of nations, and of the honor of the
Mr. Field says, that, in the negotiations on this subject, Great Britain
has never shown the slightest wish to take advantage of its geographical
position to exact special privileges, or a desire to appropriate any
advantages which it was not willing to concede equally to the United
Should not the Atlantic telegraph, if laid down under the conditions
proposed by the Company, instead of being a cause of apprehension, in
case of war, be rather looked upon with favor, as tending to lessen
the risk of war between the United States and all European countries,
affording, as it would, facilities for the prompt interchange of notes
between the Government of the United States and those of the various
nations on the other side of the Atlantic, whenever any misunderstanding
should unhappily arise?
Let us, then, throw aside all feeling of apprehension from this cause,
and be prepared to hail, with the same enthusiasm we experienced in 1858
at the laying of the old, the completion of the new Atlantic cable.
* * * * *
THE CABALISTIC WORDS.
[Since the following poem was written, we have had from the President
the pledge that the "cabalistic words" shall be uttered by him on the
first of January, 1863, unless the rebellion is abandoned before that
time. Thanks and honor to the President for the promise! But we shall
not look for the magical operation of the words till they are uttered
without reservation or qualification.]
Hear, O Commander of the Faithful, hear
A legend trite to many a childish ear;
But scorn it not, nor let its teaching fail,
Although familiar as a nursery tale.
Cassim the Covetous, whose god was gold,
Once, by strange chance, found riches manifold
Hid in a rocky cavern, where a band
Of robbers who were ravaging the land
Kept their bright spoils. Cassim had learnt the spell
By which the dazzling heaps were guarded well.
Two cabalistic words he speaks, and, lo!
The door flies open: what a golden glow!
He enters,--speaks the words of power once more,
And swift upon him clangs the ponderous door.
Croesus! what joy to eyes that know their worth!
Huge bags of gold and diamonds on the earth!
Here piles of ingots, there a glistening heap
Of coins that all their minted lustre keep.
Cassim is ravished at the wondrous sight,
And rubs his hands with ever new delight;
Absorbed in gazing, lets the hours go by,
Nor can enough indulge his gloating eye.
He chooses what he can to bear away,
And then reluctant seeks the outer day.
The words,--what _are_ they,--those that ope the door?
He falters,--loses all so plain before;--
Tries this word,--that,--in vain!--he cannot speak
The magic sentence;--he grows faint and weak,--
Spurns the base gold, cause of his wild despair;--
What if the thieves should come and find him there?--
Hark! they are coming!--yes, they come!--they shout
The precious words;--ah, now they end his doubt!--
Too late he hears; in vain he tries to fly;
Trembling he sinks upon his knees--to die!
Commander of the Faithful! dark the strait
Thy people stand in, in this hour of fate;
Thick walls of gloom and doubt have shut them in;
They grope beneath the ban of one great sin.
Yet there are two short words whose potent spell
Shall burst with thunder-crash these gates of hell,
Open a vista to celestial light,
Lead us to peace through the eternal Right.
Oh, speak those words, those saving words of power,
In this most pregnant, this supremest hour,--
Words writ in martyr blood, as all may see!--
Commander of the Faithful, say, BE FREE!
* * * * *
CONVERSATIONAL OPINIONS OF THE LEADERS OF SECESSION.
The causes of the present Rebellion, the personal history of its
leaders, and the incidents immediately preceding the breaking out of the
conspiracy, will ever remain objects of chief interest to the historian
of the present period of the Republic. Influenced by a desire to obtain
unimpeachable information upon these topics from unprejudiced sources,
the writer of the following article, then a student at Yale College,
availed himself of the vacation in December, 1860, and January, 1861, to
visit the National capital, and while there to improve the reasonably
ready access with which most public men are approached, whenever the
object is either to give or to receive information, for the purpose of
studying a period then promising to exceed in importance anything in the
past history of the nation. It has been suggested to the writer, that
certain interviews, such as younger men, when collegians, were then
allowed with the frank Southern leaders, and which he has occasionally
sketched in conversation, have had the seal of privacy removed by the
tide of events, and should now be described for the public, as aiding to
unmask, from unquestionable authority, the real causes and origin of
the Rebellion, and contributing something, perhaps, to sustain public
sentiment in the defence of the nation against a conspiracy which the
statements of these Southern apologists themselves prove to have been
conceived in the most reckless disregard of honor and law, and which, if
successful, will give birth to a neighboring nation actuated by the same
The more important interviews alluded to were with the Honorable Robert
Toombs, the Honorable R.M.T. Hunter, and the Honorable Jefferson Davis,
at that time prominent members, as is well known, of the United
States Senate, from the States respectively of Georgia, Virginia, and
Mississippi. The communications of the Senators are proved to have been
sincere by their subsequent speeches and by public events. The writer
is by no means insensible to the breach of privilege, of which, under
ordinary circumstances, notwithstanding the unfolding of events, he
would be guilty, in detailing in print private conversations; but he
believes that the public will sustain the propriety of the present
revelations, now that the persons chiefly concerned have become enemies
of the nation and of mankind.
Not, as he may possibly be accused, with the purpose of adding a
syllable of unnecessary length to the narrative, but for the sake of
vividness in presenting the idea of the _personnel_ of the Southern
leaders, soon to be known only as historical characters, and of
scrupulous accuracy in representing their sentiments, to which, in this
case, a notice of time, place, and manner seems as necessary as that of
matter, the writer has taken not a little pains, through all the usual
means, to remember, and will endeavor to state, the conversations,
always with logical, and nearly always, he believes, with verbal
accuracy, in order that the conclusions to be drawn from them by the
reader may have the better support.
It is well known that public men in Washington, out of business hours,
are visited without formal introduction or letters, especially upon
their reception-days, and that the privilege of a single interview
implies no distinction to the visitor. The urbanity and frankness with
which proper approaches are met, especially by the Southern leaders, are
also well known. Young men, with unprejudiced minds, upon whom public
characters are always anxious to impress the stamp of their own
principles, are perhaps received with quite as much frankness as others.
* * * * *
The first interview sought was with Mr. Toombs, the most daring and
ingenuous, and perhaps the most gifted in eloquence of the Southern
leaders, whose house, at that time, was a lofty building upon F Street,
only two doors from the residence of Mr. Seward. A negro servant, who,
with all the blackness of a native African, yet with thin lips and
almost the regular features of a Caucasian, appeared to the writer to be
possibly the descendant of one of the superior, princely African tribes,
showed the way to an unoccupied parlor. The room was luxuriously
furnished with evidences of wealth and taste: a magnificent pianoforte,
several well-chosen paintings, and a marble bust of some public
character standing upon a high pedestal of the same material in the
corner, attracting particular attention, and a pleasant fire in the open
grate making the December evening social. A step presently heard in the
hall, elastic, buoyant, and vigorous, was altogether too characteristic
of Mr. Toombs's portly, muscular, confident, and somewhat dashing
figure, to be mistaken for any other than his own. Mr. Toombs appeared
to be now about forty-five years of age, but carried in his whole mien
the elastic vigor, and irresistible self-reliance, frankness, decision,
and sociality of character, which mark his oratory and his public
career. His good-evening, and inquiry concerning the college named on
the card of the writer, were in a tone that at once placed his visitor
"Your first visit to Washington, Mr. ----?"
"Yes, Sir. Like others, I have been attracted by the political crisis,
and the purpose of studying it from unprejudiced sources."
"Crisis? Oh, _that's past_."
The writer will not soon forget the tone of perfect confidence and
_nonchalance_ with which this was uttered. The time was the last week of
"You are confident, then, Sir, that fifteen States will secede?"
"Secede? Certainly,--they _must_ secede. You Northerners,--you are from
a Northern college, I believe,"--referring to the writer's card,--"you
Northerners wish to make a new Constitution, or rather to give such an
interpretation to the old one as to make it virtually a new document.
How can society be kept together, if men will not keep their compacts?
Our fathers provided, in adopting their Constitution, for the protection
of their property. But here are four billions of the property of the
South which you propose to outlaw from the common Territories. You say
to us, by your elected President, by your House of Representatives, by
your Senate, by your Supreme Court, in short, by every means through
which one party can speak to another, that these four billions of
property, representing the toil of the head and hand of the South for
the last two hundred years, shall not be respected in the Territories as
your property is respected there. And this property, too, is property
which you tax and which you allow to be represented; but yet you will
not protect it. How can we remain? We should be happy to remain, if you
would treat us as equals; but you tax us, and will not protect us.
We will resist. D--n it,"--this and other striking expressions are
precisely Mr. Toombs's language,--"we will meet you on the border with
the bayonet. Society cannot be kept together, unless men will keep their
This was said without the intonation of fierceness or malignity, but
with great decision and the vigor of high spirit.
It was taking, of course, with considerable emphasis, a side in a
famous Constitutional question, familiar to all readers of American
Congressional Debates, once supported by Mr. Calhoun, and rather
strangely, too, with that philosophical leader, confusing the absurdly
asserted State right of seceding at will with the undoubted right,
when there exists no peaceful remedy, of seceding from intolerable
oppression: an entire position which Mr. Webster especially, and
subsequent statesmen, in arguments elucidating the nature and powers of
the General Government, to say nothing of the respect due to a moral
sentiment concerning slavery, which, permeating more than a majority
of the people, has the force, when properly expressed, wherever the
Constitution has jurisdiction, of supreme law, are thought by most men,
once and forever, to have satisfactorily answered. It was a complaint,
certainly, which the South had had ever since the Constitution was
formed, and which could with no plausibility be brought forward as a
justification of war, while there existed a Constitutional tribunal for
adjusting difficulties of Constitutional interpretation. Yet, as it
was almost universally asserted, of course, by the Northern partisan
presses, and by Northern Congressmen, that the Rebellion was utterly
causeless, and as the writer was therefore exceedingly anxious to
obtain, concerning their grievances, the latest opinions of the Southern
leaders, as stated by themselves, he ventured to propose, in a pause of
Mr. Toombs's somewhat rapid rhetoric, a question which, at that moment,
seemed of central importance to the candid philosophical inquirer into
the moving forces of the times:--
"Are we, then, Sir, to consider Mr. Calhoun's old complaint--the
non-recognition of slave-property under the Federal Constitution--as
constituting now the _chief grievance_ of the South?"
"Undoubtedly," was Mr. Toombs's instant reply, "_it all turns on that.
What you tax you must protect_."
This is the very strongest argument of the Southern side. But the
alleged slave-property is protected, though only under municipal law, by
the Constitution. To protect it elsewhere is against its whole spirit,
and, in the present state of public sentiment, against its very letter.
Originally, as is well known, it was not proposed to protect at all,
_under the General Government_, property so monstrous, except as it
became necessary as a compromise, in order to secure a union. But the
provision of the Constitution that the slave-trade should be abolished,
the absolute power given to Congress to make all laws for the
Territories, the spirit of the preamble, the principles of the
Declaration, indeed, the whole history of the origin and adoption of the
fundamental law, prove that its principle and its expectation were, if
not absolutely to place slavery in the States in process of extinction,
at least never to recognize it except indirectly and remotely
under municipal law, not even by admitting the word _slave_ to its
"Even in the Northern States themselves, to say nothing of the
Territories, I am not safe with my property. I can travel through
France or England and be safe; but if I happen to lose my servant up in
_Vairmount_,"--Mr. Toombs pronounced the word with a somewhat marked
accent of derision,--"and undertake to recover him, I get jugged.
Besides, your Northern statesmen are far from being honest. Here is
Billy Seward, for instance,"--with a gesture toward his neighbor's
house,--"who says slavery is contrary to the Higher Law, and that he is
bound as a Christian to obey the Higher Law; but yet he takes an oath to
uphold the Constitution, which protects slavery. This inconsistency runs
through most of the Northern platforms. How can we live with such
men? They will not be true even to a compact which they themselves
"You would think, then, Wendell Phillips, for instance, more consistent
in his political opinions than Mr. Seward?"
"Certainly. I can understand his position. 'Slavery,' he says, 'is
wrong. The Constitution protects slavery; therefore I will have nothing
to do with the Constitution, and cannot become a citizen.' This is
logical and consistent. I can respect such a position as that."
Here Mr. Toombs--ejecting, as perhaps the writer ought not to relate, a
competent mass of tobacco-saliva into the blazing coal--paused somewhat
reflectively, perhaps unpleasantly revolving certain possible indirect
influences of the position he had characterized.
"Upon which side, Sir, do you think there is usually the most
misunderstanding,--on the part of the North concerning the South? or on
the part of the South concerning the North?"
"Oh, by all odds," he replied, instantly, "we understand you best. We
send fifty thousand travellers, more or less, North every summer to
your watering-places. Hot down in Mobile,"--his style taking somewhat
unpleasantly the intonation as well as the negligence of the
bar-room,--"can't live in Mobile in the summer. Then your papers
circulate more among us than ours among you. Our daughters are educated
at Northern boarding-schools, our sons at Northern colleges: both my
colleague and myself were educated at Northern colleges. For these
reasons, by all odds, we have a better opportunity for understanding you
than you have for understanding us."
"In case of general secession and war," the writer ventured next to
inquire, "would there probably, in your opinion, be danger of a slave
"None at all. Certainly far less than of 'Bread or Blood' riots at the
The writer was surprised to find, notwithstanding Mr. Toombs's eulogy of
Southern opportunities, his understanding of the North so imperfect, and
still more surprised at the political and social principles involved in
the spirit of what followed.
"Your poor population can hold ward-meetings, and can vote. But _we_
know better how to take care of ours. They are in the fields, and
under the eye of their overseers. There can be little danger of an
insurrection under our system."
The subject and the manner of the man, in spite of his better qualities,
were becoming painful, and the writer ventured only one more remark.
"An ugly time, certainly, if war comes between North and South."
"Ugly time? _Oh, no!_"
The writer will never forget the tone of utter carelessness and
_nonchalance_ with which the last round-toned exclamation was uttered.
"Oh, no! War is nothing. Never more than a tenth part of the adult
population of a country in the field. We have four million voters. Say
a tenth of them, or four hundred thousand men, are in the field on both
sides. A tenth of them would be killed or die of camp diseases. But
_they_ would die, _any way_. War is nothing."
The tone perfectly proved this belief, not badinage.
"Some property would be destroyed, towns injured, fences overturned, and
the Devil raised generally; but then all that would have a good effect.
Only yaller-covered-literature men and editors make a noise about war.
Wars are to history what storms are to the atmosphere,--purifiers. We
shall meet, as we ought, whoever invades our rights, with the bayonet.
We are the gentlemen of this land, and gentlemen always make revolutions
This was said in the tone of an injured, but haughty man, with perfect
intellectual poise and earnestness, yet with a fervor of feeling that
brought the speaker erect in his chair.
The significance of the last remarks, which the writer can make oath he
has preserved _verbatim_, being somewhat calculated to draw on a debate,
of course wholly unfitted to the time and place, the writer, apologizing
for having taken so much time at a formal interview, and receiving, of
course, a most courteous invitation to renew the call, found himself,
after but twenty minutes' conversation, on the street, in the lonely
December evening, with a mind full of reflections.
The utter recklessness concerning life and property with which the
splendid intellect, under the lead of the ungovernable passions of this
man, was plunging the nation into a civil war of which no one could
foresee the end, was the thought uppermost. Certainly, the abstract
manliness of asserting rights supposed to be infringed it was in itself
impossible not to respect. But the man seemed to love war for its own
sake, as pugnacious schoolboys love sham-fights, with a sort of glee in
the smell of the smoke of battle. The judicial calmness of statesmanship
had entirely disappeared in the violence of sectional passion. Perhaps
he might be capable of ruining his country from pure love of turbulence
and power, could he but find a pretext of force sufficient to blind
first himself and then others. Yet Robert Toombs, in the Senate Chamber,
takes little children in his arms, and is one of the kindest of the
noblemen of Nature in the sphere of his unpolitical sympathies. The
reader who is familiar with Mr. Toombs's speeches will need no assurance
that he spoke frankly.[A]
[Footnote A: Ten days later, in the Senate, with a face full of the
combined erubescence of revolutionary enthusiasm and unstatesmanlike
anger, Mr. Toombs closed a speech to the Northern Senators in the
following amazing words, (_Congressional Globe_, 1860-61, p. 271,)
which justify, it will be seen, every syllable of the report of the
conversation upon the same points:--
"You will not regard confederate obligations; you will not regard
constitutional obligations; you will not regard your oaths. What am I to
do? Am I a freeman? Is my State, a free State, to lie down and submit
because political fossils raise the cry of 'The Glorious Union'? Too
long already have we listened to this delusive song. We are freemen. We
have rights: I have stated them. We have wrongs: I have recounted them.
I have demonstrated that the party now coming into power has declared
us outlaws, and is determined to exclude four thousand millions of our
property from the common territories,--that it has declared us under the
ban of the empire and out of the protection of the laws of the United
States, everywhere. They have refused to protect us from invasion and
insurrection by the Federal power, and the Constitution denies to us
in the Union the right either to raise fleets or armies for our own
defence. All these charges I have proven by the record, and I put
them before the civilized world, and demand the judgment of to-day, of
to-morrow, of distant ages, and of Heaven itself, upon these causes. I
am content, whatever it be, to peril all in so noble, so holy a cause.
We have appealed time and time again for these constitutional rights.
You have refused them. We appeal again. Restore us these rights as we
had them, as your court adjudges them to be, just as all our people have
said they are, redress these flagrant wrongs, seen of all men, and it
will restore fraternity and peace and unity to all of us. Refuse them,
and what then? We shall then ask you to 'let us depart in peace.' Refuse
that, and you present us war. We accept it; and inscribing upon our
banners the glorious words, 'Liberty and Equality,' we will trust to
the blood of the brave and the God of battles for security and
Sincere, but undoubtedly mistaken, Mr. Toombs! To this philippic, let
the words of another Southern, but not sectional Senator, reply, and
that from a golden age:--
"But if, unhappily, we should be involved in war, in civil war, between
the two parts of this Confederacy, in which the effort upon the one
side should be to restrain the introduction of slavery into the new
territories, and upon the other side to force its introduction there,
what a spectacle should we present to the astonishment of mankind, in an
effort, not to propagate right, but--I must say it, though I trust it
will be understood to be said with no design to excite feeling--a war to
propagate wrong in the territories thus acquired from Mexico. It would
be a war in which we should have no sympathies, no good wishes, in which
all mankind would be against us; for, from the commencement of the
Revolution down to the present time, we have constantly reproached
our British ancestors for the introduction of slavery into this
country."--HENRY CLAY, _Congressional Globe_, Part II., Vol. 22, p.
Sick at heart, as the future of the nation stood to his dim vision
through the present, the writer found his way to his hotel. At this
time the North was silent, apparently apathetic, unbelieving, almost
criminally allowed to be undeceived by its presses and by public men who
had means of information, while this volcano continued to prepare itself
thus defiantly beneath the very feet of a President sworn to support the
* * * * *
The formal interview with the Honorable R.M.T. Hunter was sought in
company with two other students of New-England colleges. We had hoped to
meet Mr. Mason at the same apartments, but were disappointed. The great
contrast of personal character between Mr. Hunter and Mr. Toombs made
the concurrence of the former in the chief views presented by the
latter the more significant. The careful habits of thought, the
unostentatiousness, and the practical common sense for which the
Virginian farmer is esteemed, and which had made his name a prominent
one for President of a Central Confederacy, in case of the separate
secession of the Border States, were curiously manifested both in
his apartments and his manner. The chamber was apparently at a
boarding-house, but very plainly furnished with red cotton serge
curtains and common hair-cloth chairs and sofa. The Senator's manner of
speech was slow, considerate,--indeed, sometimes approaching awkwardness
in its plain, farmer-like simplicity. One of the first questions was the
central one, concerning the chief grievance of the South, which had been
presented to Mr. Toombs.
"Yes," was Mr. Hunter's reply, somewhat less promptly given, "it may be
said to come chiefly from that,--the non-recognition of our property
under the Constitution. We wish our property recognized, as we think the
Constitution provides. We should like to remain with the North."
He spoke without a particle of expressed passion or ardor, though by
no means incapable, when aroused, as those who have seen his plethoric
countenance and figure can testify, of both.
"We are mutually helpful to each other. _We want to use your navy and
your factories. You want our cotton. The North to manufacture, and the
South to produce, would make the strongest nation_. But, if we separate,
we shall try to do more in Virginia than we do now. We shall make mills
on our streams."
His language was chiefly Saxon monosyllables.
"The climate is not as severe, the nights are not as long with us as
with you. I think we can do well at manufacturing in Virginia. The
Chesapeake Bay and our rivers should aid commerce. As for the slaves,
I think there is little danger of any trouble. There may be some," he
said, with a frankness that surprised us slightly, but in the same
moderate, honest way, his hands clasped upon his breast, and the
extended feet rubbing together slowly, "in the Cotton States, where they
are very thick together; but I think that there is very little danger in
Virginia. The way they take to rise in never shows much skill. The last
time they rose in our State, I think the attempt was brought on by some
sign in an eclipse of the moon."
Nearly all that passed of political interest is contained in the
foregoing sentences, except one honest reply to a question concerning
his opinion of the probability of the North's attempting coercion.
"If only three States go out, they may coerce," said Mr. Hunter; "but if
fifteen go, I guess they won't try."
At the present period of the Rebellion, this indication of the
anticipations of its leaders in engaging in it must be of interest.
It must be understood that the writer and his companions presented
themselves simply as students, with no fixed exclusive predilections for
either of the public parties in politics,--which, in the writer's case
at least, was certainly a statement wholly true,--and that this evident
freedom from political bias secured perhaps an unusual share of the
confidence of the Southern Senators. It will be remembered, also, that
in every conversation, however startling the revelation of criminal
purpose or absurd motive, the manner of these Senators was always
totally devoid of any approach to that vulgar intellectual levity which
too often, in treating of public affairs, painfully characterizes
the fifth-rate men whom the North sometimes chooses to make its
representatives. The manner of the Southern leaders was to us a
sufficient proof of their sincerity.
* * * * *
At the house of the Honorable Jefferson Davis, now in the world's
gaze President of the then nascent Confederacy, the writer, in the
intelligent and genial company of the graduate of Harvard and the
student of Amherst before mentioned, called formally, on the evening
of the New Year's reception-day. A representative from one of the
Southwestern States was present, but we were soon admitted to the front
of the open blazing grate of the reception-parlor. We had before seen
Mr. Davis busy in the Senate.
The urbanity, the intellectual energy, and the intensely shrewd
watchfulness and ambition, combined with a covertly expressed, but
powerful native instinct for strategy and command, which have made Mr.
Davis a public leader, were evident at the first glance. The Senator
seemed compact of ambition, will, intellect, activity, and shrewdness.
A high and broad, but square forehead; the aquiline nose; the square,
fighting chin; the thin, compressed, but flexible lips; the almost
haggardly sunken cheek; the piercing, not wholly uncovered eye; the
dark, somewhat thinning hair; the clear, slightly browned, nervous
complexion, all well given in the best current photographs, were united
to a figure slightly bent in the shoulders, of more respiratory than
digestive breadth, in outlines almost equally balancing ruggedness and
grace, of compactness wrought by the pressure of perhaps few more than
fifty summers, not above medium height, but composed throughout of silk
and steel. A certain similarity between the decorations of the parlor
and the character of the owner, perhaps more fanciful than real, at once
attracted attention. Everything was simple, graceful, and rich, without
being tropically luxuriant; the paintings appeared to be often of airy,
winged, or white-robed figures, that suggested a reflective and not
unimaginative mind in the one who had chosen them. This was the leader
whom Mr. Calhoun's fervent political metaphysics and his own ambition
for place and power had misled. His conversation was remarkable in
manner for perfect unostentatiousness, clearness, and self-control, and
in matter for breadth and minuteness of political information. In the
whole conversation, he never uttered a broken or awkwardly constructed
sentence, nor wavered, while stating facts, by a single intonation. This
considerable intellectual energy, combined with courtesy, was his
chief fascination. Yet, underneath all lay an atmosphere of covert
haughtiness, and, at times, even of audacious remorselessness, which,
under stimulative circumstances, were to be feared. Undoubtedly, passion
and ambition were natively stronger in the countenance than reason,
conscience, and general sympathy,--an observation best felt to be true
when the face was compared in imagination with the faces of some of the
world's chief benefactors; but culture, native urbanity, and a powerful
reflective tendency had evidently so wrought, that, though conscience
might be imperilled frequently by great adroitness in the casuistry of
self-excuse, justice could not be consciously opposed for any length of
time without powerful silent reaction. The quantity of being, however,
though superior, was not of so high a measure as the quality, and the
principal deficiencies, though perhaps almost the sole ones, were
plainly moral. In his presence, no man could deny to him something of
that dignity, of a kind superior to that of intellect and will, which
must be possessed by every leader as a basis of confidence. But mournful
severe truth would testify that there was yet, at times, palpably
something of the treacherous serpent in the eye, and it could not
readily be told where it would strike.
In reply to a reference to a somewhat celebrated speech by Senator
Benjamin of Louisiana, which we had heard the day previous, he said that
we might consider it, as a whole, a very fair statement both of the
arguments and the purposes of the South. Perhaps a speech of more
horrible doctrine, upheld by equal argumentative and rhetorical power,
has never been heard in the American Senate. In reply, also, to the one
central question concerning the chief grievance of the South, he gave in
substance the same answer, uttered perhaps with more logical calmness,
that had been given by Mr. Hunter and Mr. Toombs, that it was
substantially covered by Mr. Calhoun's old complaint, the
non-recognition of slave-property under the Federal Constitution. Of
course we were as yet too well established in the belief that slavery in
the United States is upheld by the Constitution only very remotely and
indirectly, under local or municipal law, to desire, even by questions,
to draw on any debate.
In reply to a question by the gentleman from Harvard, he spoke of a
Central Confederacy as altogether improbable, and thought, if Georgia
seceded, as the telegrams for the last fortnight had indicated she
would, Maryland would be sure to go. "I think the commercial and
political interests of Maryland," he remarked, in his calm and simple,
but distinct and watchful manner, manifesting, too, at the same time,
a natural command of dignified, antithetical sentences, "would be
promoted, perhaps can be only preserved, by secession. Her territory
extends on both sides of a great inland water communication, and is at
the natural Atlantic outlet, by railway, of the Valley of the West.
Baltimore in the Union is sure to be inferior to Philadelphia and New
York: Baltimore out of the Union is sure to become a great commercial
city. In every way, whether we regard her own people or their usefulness
to other States, I think the interests of Maryland would be promoted by
"But would not Maryland lose many more slaves, as the border member of a
foreign confederacy, than she does now in the Union?"
The reply to this question we looked for with the greatest interest,
since no foreign nation, such as the North would be, in case of
the success of the attempted Confederacy, ever thinks of giving up
fugitives, and since the policy of the South upon this point, in case
she should succeed, would determine the possibility or impossibility of
peace between the two portions of the Continent.
Mr. Davis's reply was in the following words, uttered in a tone of equal
shrewdness, calmness, and decision:--
"I think, for all Maryland would lose in that way she would be more than
repaid by reprisals. While we are one nation and you steal our property,
we have little redress; _but when we become two nations, we shall say,
Two can play at this game_."
We breathed more freely after so frank an utterance. The great
importance of this reply, coming from the even then proposed political
chief of the Confederacy, as indicating the impossibility of peace, even
in case of the recognition of the South, so long as it should continue,
as it has begun, to make Slavery the chief corner-stone of the State,
will be at once perceived.
"But," the writer ventured to inquire, "what will become of the Federal
District, since its inhabitants have no 'State right of secession'?"
"Have you ever studied law?" he asked.
The gentleman from Amherst confessed our ignorance of any point covering
"There is a rule in law," continued Mr. Davis, "that, when property is
granted by one party to another for use for any specified purpose, and
ceases to be used for that purpose, it reverts by law to the donor.
Now the territory constituting at present the District of Columbia was
granted, as you well know, by Maryland to the United States for use as
the seat of the Federal capital. When it ceases to be used for that
purpose, it, with all its public fixtures, will revert by law to
Maryland. But," and his eye brightened to the hue of cold steel in a
way the writer will never forget, as he uttered, in a tone perfectly
self-poised, undaunted, and slightly defiant, the words, "_that is a
point which may be settled by force rather than by reason_."
This was January 1, 1861, only eleven days after South Carolina had
passed her Act of Secession, and shows that even then, notwithstanding
the professed desire of the South to depart in peace, the attack not
only upon the national principles of union, but upon the national
property as well, was projected. Mr. Davis, loaded with the benefits of
his country, yet occupied a seat in the Senate Chamber, under the most
solemn oath to uphold its Constitution, which, even if his grievances
had been well founded, afforded Constitutional and peaceful remedies
that he had never attempted to use. Presenting regards, very formal
indeed, sick at heart, indignant, and anxious, we left the house of the
The historical conclusions to be drawn from the above slight sketches
are important in several respects. Mr. Davis, Mr. Toombs, and Mr. Hunter
are among the strongest leaders of the Rebellion. Representing the
Northern, Southeastern, and Southwestern populations of the disaffected
regions, their testimony had a wide application, and was perhaps as
characteristic and pointed in these brief conversations, occurring just
upon the eve of the bursting of the storm, as we should have heard in a
hundred interviews. That they spoke frankly was not only evidenced to
us by their entire manner, but, as it is not unimportant to repeat,
has been proved by subsequent events. The conversations, therefore,
1. That the grand, fundamental, legal ground for the Rebellion was a
view of Constitutional rights by which property in human beings claimed
equal protection under the General Government with the products of Free
Labor, and to be admitted, therefore, at will, to all places under the
jurisdiction of the Federal power, and not simply to be protected under
local or municipal law,--rights which the South proposed to vindicate,
constitutionally, by Secession, or, in other words, by the domination of
State over National sovereignty: an entire view of the true intent of
the Federal compacts and powers, which, in the great debates between Mr.
Webster and Mr. Calhoun, to say nothing of elucidations by previous and
subsequent jurists and statesmen, has been again and again abundantly
demonstrated to be absurd.
2. That the immediate, comprehensive pretext for the Rebellion was the
success of a legal majority having in its platform of principles the
doctrine of the non-extension of involuntary human bondage in the
territories over which the Constitution had given to the whole people
absolute control, a doctrine which the mass of the Southern populations
were educated to believe not only deadly to their local privileges, but
3. That the leaders of the Rebellion frankly admitted, that, excepting
this one point of Constitutional grievance, the interests of the
populations which they represented would be better subserved in the
Union than out of it.
4. That the leaders of the Rebellion appear not to have anticipated
coercion; but yet, from the earliest days of Secession, contemplated
the spoliation of the Southern National property, and particularly the
seizure of the Federal capital.
5. That, even should the independence of the South be acknowledged,
peace could not result so long as Slavery should continue: their avowed
system of reprisals for the certain escape of slaves precluding all
force in any but piratical international law.
6. That the spirit of the Rebellion is the haughty, grasping, and,
except within its own circle, the remorseless spirit universally
characteristic of oligarchies, before the success of whose principles
upon this continent the liberties of the whites could be no safer than
those of the blacks.
"We are the gentlemen of this land," said the Georgian senator, "and
gentlemen always make revolutions in history." And just previously he
had said, with haughty significance, "_Your_ poor population can hold
ward-meetings, and can vote. But _we_ know better how to take care of
ours. They are in the fields, and under the eye of their overseers."
In these two brief remarks, taken singly, or, especially, in
juxtaposition, from so representative a source, and so characteristic
of oligarchical opinions everywhere, appears condensed the suggestive
political warning of these times, indeed of all times, and which a
people regardful of civil and religious liberty can never be slow to
Let the pride of race and the aristocratic tendencies which underlie the
resistance of the South prevail, and we shall see a new America. The
land of the fathers and of the present will become strange to us. In
place of a thriving population, each member socially independent,
self-respecting, contented, and industrious, contributing, therefore,
to the general welfare, and preserving to posterity and to mankind a
national future of inconceivable power and grandeur, we shall see a
class of unemployed rich and unemployed poor, the former a handful, the
latter a host, in perpetual feud. The asylum of nations, ungratefully
rejecting the principles of equality, to which it has owed a career
of prosperity unexampled in history, will find in arrested commerce,
depressed credit, checked manufactures, an effeminate and selfish,
however brilliant, governing class, and an impoverished and imbruted
industrial population, the consequences of turning back upon its path of
advance. The condition of the most unfortunate aristocracies of the Old
World will become ours.
But the venerated principles partially promulgated in our golden age
forbid such unhappy auspices. Undoubtedly gentlemen make revolutions in
history; but since all may be Christians, may not all men be gentlemen?
At least, have not all men, everywhere, the sacred and comprehensive
right of equal freedom of endeavor to occupy their highest capacities?
_Does not the Creator, who makes nothing in vain, wherever He implants a
power, imply a command to exercise that power according to the highest
aspiration, and is not responsibility eternally exacted, wherever
power and command coexist?_ By that fearful sanction, may not all men,
everywhere, become the best they can become? What that may be, is not
free, equal, and perpetual experiment, judged by conscience in the
individual and by philanthropy in his brother, and not by arrogance
or cupidity in his oppressor, to decide? To secure the wisdom and
perpetuity of this experiment, are not governments instituted? Is not
a monopoly of opportunity by any single class, by all historical and
theoretical proof, not only unjust to the excluded, but crippling
and suicidal to the State? Nay, is not the slightest infringement of
regulated social and political justice, liberty, and humanity, in
the person of black or of white, that makes the greatest potential
development of the highest in human nature impossible or difficult, to
be resisted, as a violation of the peace of the soul, endless treachery
to mankind, an affront to Heaven? Would not the very soil of America,
in which Liberty is said to inhere, cry out and rise against any but an
affirmative answer to such questions?
A near future will decide.
* * * * *
THE HOUR AND THE MAN.
The Twenty-Second of September, 1862, bids fair to become as remarkable
a date in American history as the Fourth of July, 1776; for on that day
the President of the United States, availing himself of the full powers
of his position, declared this country free from that slaveholding
oligarchy which had so long governed it in peace, and the influence of
which was so potently felt for more than a year after it had broken up
the Union, and made war upon the Federal Government. Be the event what
it may,--and the incidents of the war have taught us not to be too
sanguine as to the results of any given movement,--President Lincoln has
placed the American nation in a proper attitude with respect to that
institution the existence of which had so long been the scandal and
the disgrace of a people claiming to be the freest on earth, but whose
powers had been systematically used and abused for the maintenance and
the extension of slave-labor.
It was our misfortune, and in some sense it was also our fault, that we
were bound to uphold the worst system of slavery that ever was known
among men; for we must judge of every wrong that is perpetrated by the
circumstances that are connected with it, and our oppression of the
African race was peculiarly offensive, inasmuch as it was a proceeding
in flagrant violation of our constantly avowed principles, was continued
in face of the opinions of the founders of the nation, was frankly
upheld on the unmanly ground that the intellectual weakness of the
slaves rendered it safe to oppress them, and was not excused by that
general ignorance of right which has so often been brought forward in
palliation of wrong,--as slavery had come under the ban of Christendom
years before Americans could be found boldly bad enough to claim for it
a divine origin, and to avow that it was a proper, and even the best,
foundation for civil society. Our offence was of the rankest, and its
peculiar character rendered us odious in the eyes of the nations, who
would not admit the force of our plea as to the great difficulties that
lay in the way of the removal of the evil, as they had seen it condemned
by most communities, and abolished by some of their number.
The very circumstance upon which Americans have relied for the
justification of their form of slavery, namely, that it was confined to
one race, and that race widely separated from all other races by
the existence of peculiar characteristics, has been regarded as an
aggravation of their misconduct by all humane and disinterested persons.
The Greek system of slavery, which was based on the idea that Greeks
were noblemen of Heaven's own creating, and that they therefore were
justified in treating all other men as inferiors, and making the same
use of them as they made of horses; the Roman system, which was based on
the will of society, and therefore made no exceptions on the score of
color, but saw in all strangers only creatures of chase; the Mussulman
system, brought out so strongly by the action of the States of Barbary,
and which was colored by the character of the long quarrel between
Mahometans and Christians, and under which Northern Africa was filled
with myriads of slaves from Southern Europe, among whom were men of
the highest intellect,--Cervantes, for example;--all these systems
of servitude, and others that might be adduced, were respectable in
comparison with our system, which proceeded upon the blasphemous
assumption that God had created and set apart one race that should
forever dwell in the house of bondage. If, in some respects, our system
has been more humane than that of other peoples in other times, the fact
is owing to that general improvement which has taken place the earth
over during the present century. The world has gone forward, and even
American slaveholders have been compelled to go with it, whether they
would or not.
It was a distinctive feature of slavery, as here known, that it tended
to debauch the mind of Christendom. So long as all men were liable to be
enslaved, and even Shakspeare and Milton were in some danger of sharing
the fate of Cervantes,--and the Barbary corsairs did actually carry
off men from the British Islands in the times of Milton and
Shakspeare,--there could not fail to grow up a general hostility to
slavery, and the institution was booked for destruction. But when
slavery came to be considered as the appropriate condition of one race,
and the members of that race so highly qualified to engage in the
production of cotton and sugar, tobacco and rice, the danger was, not
only that slavery would once more come into favor, but that the African
slave-trade would be replaced in the list of legitimate commercial
pursuits, and become more extensive than it was in those days when it
was defended by bishops and kings' sons in the British House of Lords.
That this is not an unfounded opinion will be admitted by those who
recollect that the London "Times," that representative of the average
English mind, but recently published articles that could mean nothing
less than a desire to revive the old system of slavery, with all that
should be necessary to maintain it in force; that Mr. Carlyle is an
advocate of the oppression of negroes; and that the French Government
at one time seemed disposed to have resort to a course that must, if
adopted, have converted Africa into a storehouse of slaves.
Our slaveholders were not blind to this altered state of the European
mind, of which they availed themselves, and of which, in a certain
sense, they had the best of all rights to avail themselves, for it was
largely their own work. At the same time that England abolished slavery
in her dominions, the chief Nullifiers, who were the fathers of the
Secession Rebellion, assumed the position that negro slavery was good in
itself, and that it was the duty of white men to uphold and to extend
it. This was done by Governor McDuffie, of South Carolina, in 1834,
and it was warmly approved by many Southern men, as well out of South
Carolina as in that most fanatical of States, but generally condemned by
the Democrats of that time, though now it is not uncommon to find men
in the North who accept all that the old Nullifier put forward as a new
truth eight-and-twenty years ago. Earnestly and zealously, and with no
small amount of talent, the friends of slavery labored to impose their
views upon the entire Southern mind,--and that not so much because they
loved slavery for itself as because they knew, that, if the slaveholding
interest could be placed in opposition to the Federal Union, that Union
might be destroyed. They were fanatics in their attachment to slavery,
but even their fanaticism was secondary to their hatred of that
power which, as represented by Andrew Jackson, had trampled down
Nullification, and compelled Carolina and Calhoun to retreat from cannon
and the gallows. Mr. Rhett, then Mr. Barnwell Smith, said, in the
debates in the Convention on the proposition to accept the Tariff
Compromise of 1833, that he hated the star-spangled banner; and
unquestionably he expressed the feelings of many of his contemporaries,
who deemed submission prudent, but who were consoled by the reflection
that slavery would afford them a far better means for breaking up the
Union than it was possible to get through the existence of any tariff,
no matter how protective it might be. All the great leaders of the first
Secession school had passed away from the earth, when Rhett "still
lived" to see the flag he hated pulled down before the fire that was
poured upon Fort Sumter from Carolina's batteries worked by the hands
of Carolinians. Calhoun, Hamilton, McDuffie, Hayne, Trumbull, Cooper,
Harper, Preston, and others, men of the first intellectual rank in
America, had departed; but Rhett survived to see what they had labored
to effect, and what they would have effected, had they not encountered
one of those iron spirits to whom is sometimes intrusted the government
of nations, and who are of more value to nations than gold and fleets
and armies. All that we have lately seen done, and more, would have been
done thirty years since, had any other man than Andrew Jackson been at
that time President of the United States. There was much cant in those
days about "the one-man power," because President Jackson saw fit to
make use of the Constitutional qualified veto-power to express his
opposition to certain measures adopted by Congress; but the best
exhibition of "the one-man power" that the country ever saw, then or
before or since, was when the same magistrate crushed Nullification,
maintained the Union, and secured the nation's peace for more than a
quarter of a century. We never knew what a great man Jackson was, until
the country was cursed by Buchanan's occupation of the same chair that
Jackson had filled,--a chair that he was unworthy to dust,--and by his
cowardice and treachery which made civil war inevitable. One man, at the
close of 1860, could have done more than has yet been accomplished by
the million of men who have been called to arms because no such man was
then in the nation's service. The "one hour of Dundee" was not more
wanting to the Stuarts than the one month of Jackson was wanting to us
but two years ago.
The powerful teaching of the Nullifiers was successful. The South, which
assumed to be the exclusive seat of American nationality, while the
North was declared given up to sectionalism, with no other lights on its
path than "blue lights," became the South so devoted to slavery that
it could see nothing else in the country. Old Union men of 1832 became
Secessionists, though Nullification, the milder thing of the two, had
been too much for them to endure. They not only endured the more hideous
evil, but they embraced it. Between 1832 and 1860 a change had been
wrought such as twice that time could not have accomplished at any
earlier period of human history. The old Southern ideas respecting
slavery had disappeared, and that institution had become an object of
idolatry, so that any criticisms to which it was subjected kindled the
same sort of flame that is excited in a pious community when objects of
devotion are assailed and destroyed by the hands of unbelievers.
The astonishing material prosperity that accompanied the system of
slave-labor had, no doubt, much to do with the regard that was bestowed
upon the system itself. That was the time when Cotton became King,--at
least, in the opinion of its worshippers. The Democratic party of the
North passed from that position of radicalism to which the name of
_Locofocoism_ was given, to the position of supporters of the extremest
Southern doctrines, so that for some years it appeared to exist for no
other purpose than to do garrison-duty in the Free States, the cost of
its maintenance being supplied by the Federal revenues. Abroad the same
change began to be noted, the demand for cotton prevailing over the
power of conscience. Everything worked as well for evil as it could
work, and as if Satan himself had condescended to accept the post of
stage-manager for the disturbers of America's peace.
To take advantage of the change that had been brought about was the
purpose of the whole political population of the South. But though that
section was united in its determination to support the supremacy of
slavery, it was far from being united in its opinions as to the best
mode of accomplishing its object. There were three parties in the South
in the last days of the old Union. The first, and the largest, of these
parties answered very nearly to the Southern portion of the Democratic
party, and contained whatever of sense and force belonged to the South.
It was made up of men who were firmly resolved upon one thing, namely,
that they would ruin the Union, if they should forever lose the power to
rule it; but they had the sagacity to see that the ends which they had
in view could be more easily achieved in the Union than out of it.
They were not disunionists _per se_, but were quite ready to become
disunionists, if the Union was to be governed otherwise than in the
direct and immediate interest of slavery. Slavery was the basis of their
political system, and they knew that it could be better served by the
American Union's continued existence than by the construction of
a Southern Confederacy, provided the former should do all that
slaveholders might require it to do.
The second Southern party, and the smallest of them all, was composed
of the minions of the Nullifiers, and of their immediate followers, men
whose especial object it was to destroy the Union, and who hated the
subservient portion of the Northern people far more bitterly than they
hated Republicans, or even Abolitionists. They would have preferred
abolition and disunion to the triumph of slavery and the preservation of
the Union. It was not that they loved slavery less, but that they hated
the Union more. Even if the country should submit to the South, the
leaders of this faction knew that they would not be the Southrons to
whom should be intrusted the powers and the business of government. Few
of them were of much account even in their own States, and generally
they could have been set down as chiefs of the opposition to everything
that was reasonable. A remarkable proof of the little hold which this
class of men had on even the most mad of the Southern States, when at
the height of their fury, was afforded by the refusal of South Carolina
to elect Mr. Rhett Governor, her Legislature conferring that post on Mr.
Pickens, a moderate man when compared with Mr. Rhett, and who, there
is reason for believing, would have prevented a resort to Secession
altogether, could he have done so without sacrificing what he held to be
The third Southern party consisted of men who desired the continuance
of the Union, but who wished that some "concessions" should be made, or
"compromises" effected, in order to satisfy men, one portion of whom
were resolved upon having everything, while the other portion were
resolute in their purpose to destroy everything that then existed of a
national character. This third party was mostly composed of those
timid men whose votes count for much at ordinary periods, but who in
extraordinary times are worse than worthless, being in fact incumbrances
on bolder men. They loved the Union, because they loved peace, and were
opposed to violence of all kinds; but their Unionism was much like
Bailie Macwheeble's conscience, which was described as never doing him
any harm. What they would have done, had Government been able to send a
strong force to their assistance at the beginning of the war, we cannot
undertake to say; but they have done little to aid the Federal cause in
the field, while their influence in the Federal councils has been more
prejudicial to the country than the open exertions of the Secessionists
to effect the nation's destruction.
Of these parties, the first had every reason to believe that it could
soon regain possession of Congress, and that in 1864 it would be able to
elect its candidate to the Presidency. Hence it had no wish to dissolve
the Union; and if its leaders could have had their way, the Union would
have been spared. But the second party, making up for its deficiency in
numbers by the intensity of its zeal, and laboring untiringly, was too
much for the moderates. Hate is a stronger feeling than love of any
kind, stronger even than love of spoils; and the men who followed Rhett
and Yancey, Pryor and Spratt, hated the Union with a perfect hatred.
They got ahead of the men who followed Davis and Stephens, and the rest
of those Southern chiefs who would have been content with the complete
triumph of Southern principles in the Republic as it stood in 1860. As
they broke up the Democratic party in order to render the election
of the Republican candidate certain, so that they might found on his
election the _cri de guerre_ of a "sectional triumph" over the South, so
they "coerced" the Southern people into the adoption of a war-policy. We
have more than once heard Mr. Lincoln blamed for "precipitating matters"
in April, 1861. He should have temporized, it has been said, and so
have preserved peace; but when he called for seventy-five thousand
volunteers, he made war unavoidable. The truth is, that Mr. Lincoln did
not begin the war. It was begun by the South. His call for volunteers
was the consequence of war being made on the nation, and not the cause
of war being made either on the South or by the South. The enemy fired
upon and took Fort Sumter before the first call for volunteers was
issued; and that proceeding must be admitted to have been an act of war,
unless we are prepared to admit that there is a right of Secession.
And Fort Sumter was fired upon and taken through the influence of the
violent party at the South, who were resolved that there should be war.
They knew that it was beyond the power of the Federal Government to send
supplies to the doomed fort, and that in a few days it would pass into
the hands of the Confederates; and this they determined to prevent,
because they knew also that the mere surrender of the garrison, when
it had eaten its last rations, would not suffice to "fire the Northern
heart." They carried their point, and hence it was that war was begun
the middle of April, 1861. But for the triumph of the violent Southern
party, the contest might have been postponed, and even a peace patched
up for the time, and the inevitable struggle put off to a future day.
As it was, Government had no choice, and was compelled to fight; and it
would have been compelled to fight, had it been composed entirely of
War being unavoidable, and it being clear that slavery was the cause of
it as well as its occasion, and that it would be the main support of our
enemy, it ought to have followed that our first blow should be directed
against that institution. Nothing of the kind happened. Whatever
Government may have thought on the subject, it did nothing to injure
slavery. But for this forbearance, which now appears so astonishing, we
are not disposed to blame the President. He acted as the representative
of the country, which was not then prepared to act vigorously against
the root of the evil that afflicted it. A moral blindness prevailed,
which proved most injurious to the Union cause, and from the effect of
which it may never recover. It was supposed that it was yet possible to
"conciliate" the South, and that that section could be induced to "come
back" into the Union, provided nothing should be done to hurt its
feelings or injure its interests! Looking back to the summer of 1861, it
is with difficulty that we can believe that men were then in possession
of their senses, so inconsistent was their conduct. The Rebels were at
least as sensitive on the subject of their military character as they
were on that of slavery; and yet, while we could not be sufficiently
servile on the latter subject, we acted most offensively on the former.
We asserted, in every form and variety of language, our ability to "put
them down;" and but for the circumstance that not the slightest atom of
ability marked the management of our military affairs, we should
have made our boasting good. Men who could not say enough to satisfy
themselves on the point of the right of the chivalrous Southrons to
create, breed, work, and sell slaves, were equally loud-mouthed in their
expressed purpose to "put down" the said Southrons because they had
rebelled, and rebelled only because they were slaveholders, and for the
purpose of placing slavery beyond the reach of wordy assault in the
country of which it should be the governing power. There has been much
complaint that foreigners have not understood the nature of our quarrel,
and that the general European hostility to the American national cause
is owing to their ignorance of American affairs. How that may be we
shall not stop to inquire; but it is beyond dispute that no European