Page images
PDF
EPUB

the future shall find themselves engaged, the advantage will necessarily remain with the new spirit. We have seen that history has its laws. If history has its laws, war, which plays so great a part in history, which represents its great movements, and, thus to speak, its crises, war also ought to have its laws, and its necessary laws. And if, as we have established it, history, with its great events, is nothing else than the judgment of God upon humanity, we can say that war is nothing else than the pronouncing of this judgment, and that battles are its signal promulgation. Defeats and the end of a nation are the decrees of civilization and of God himself, in regard to this nation, which they declare to be behind the present time, to be in opposition with the progress of the world, and consequently to be blotted out of the book of life.”

Having thus endeavored to view war from the summits of historical philosophy, let us try to indicate wherein the war, of which the Army of the Tennessee bore one-half the weight, has advanced the cause which righteous wars have always promoted. We have seen that the great conquests of history have been the victories of better ideas, compelled, generally, in selfdefense, but always justly, to appeal to the arbitrament of force. Had our war this justification? It had, most assuredly.

It has been remarked that the manners and customs and business policy of a people are more powerful than its positive governmental institutions in shaping its destinies, by modifying its organic form. This is doubtless true in many instances. And because manners, customs, and business ways are the products of an environment, of aptitudes, of temptations, and of the personal characteristics of a people all reciprocally interacting upon each other; are irrepealable by legislation, and work steadily through the spontaneous exertions of millions by the power of common consent, making convictions take concrete forms, political or otherwise, so that in the same State will often be found, as was the case with us, two constitutions struggling for ascendancy,– the one written and adopted, the other unwritten, but powerfully pressing upon the other to amend it; here deposing some ancient function which may be worn out, there usurping some power made necessary or convenient by the exigencies of the times, because all this was true in our case, it was found that no force less powerful than a great social and warlike convulsion could abrogate these innovating forces; and it followed that, when they were abrogated, their polar opposites came into operation and worked beneficently.

The founders of our government deliberately left their elabo

rate scheme subject to the pernicious influence of such an extraorganic adversary. I allude, of course, to the domestic institution of slavery. It was at first a mild and unaggressive social form which seemed obsolescent. But the great inventions which applied the myriad fingers of machinery to gin and spin cotton, which, by cheapening the finished product, made the market universal, which remitted every slave to the production of the staple and, by the magic of demand, subdued the southern wilderness into fields, made the institution of slavery, what it never was before in the world's history, intensely aggressive. The opposing principles which have always caused wars, came into conflict. An instrument which was intended to be a solemn covenant of the people in their primary and undelegated capacity, which begins with the words, “We, the people,” was misconstrued as the mere grant of powers by the States as States, subject to defeasance by them, as a mere treaty compact between them. The baneful doctrine of the balance of power became cardinal with great parties and with great political instructors. Under the influence of these heresies, organic political changes took place, although they were for a long time feignedly unrecognized by those pleasing fictions of self-delusion by which nations, as well as individuals, so often cheat themselves into the hope that all is well.

By the usurpation of this repealing power, the Union was actually dissolved long before the fact of its dissolution was recognized. Though there remained a nominal union, its constitutional bonds were merely a ligamentous tie, with a depraved circulation, actually irritating, which held together, by the mere habit of a convenient cohesion, foreign bodies as hostile as are repulsion and attraction.

In the period from the commencement of the Mexican war until the ligament of the hypothetical union was cut by the sword, observe our history, and what actual cohesion was there in our system? The delicately adjusted degrees of power and right were shaken. As Shakespeare makes Ulysses say:

“Frights, changes, horrors,
Divert and crack, rend and deracinate
The unity and married calm of states
Quite from their fixture! O, when degree is shaked,
Which is the ladder to all high designs,
Then enterprise is sick! How could communities,
Degrees in schools and brotherhoods in cities,

Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenitive and due of birth,
Prerogative of earth, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And, hark, what discord follows! Each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy: The bounded waters
Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores
And make a sop of all this solid globe:
Strength should be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son should strike his father dead:
Force should be right: or, rather, right and wrong,
Between whose endless jar justice resides,
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then every thing includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey,

And last eat up himself." This was our condition, and it was the result of contending institutions and their consequent manners and customs. The institution of slavery bred conceptions of allegiance wholly at war with the fundamental principles of our polity. Slavery was feudal and baronial in its character. The analogy is not a fanciful one, for, as in the feudal times, the lord often aided the central or superior government when and as he pleased; so, in our case, the feudatories of the South held firm or relaxed their allegiance as passion or interest instructed, and they expounded their duties to suit themselves. This was the revolutionary doctrine of states rights. From this sprang the rebellious prerogative of secession, whereby treason was formulated into a constitutional principle, as in the older and ruder times. The consequences were most disastrous.

We became two peoples. We were enemies with one treasury. Our navy carried two flags. We were the hostile joint-tenants of one public domain. The destroving principle of balance of power became efficient in our affairs. The South, agricultural, and relying upon one staple, was unprogressive. Ascendancy was its necessity, and it was therefore unwilling that the common resources sliould be at all applied in aiding the great works of internal improvement, -those greater than Appian ways, which in their completed state have clamped this nation by iron bands stronger than

any constitutional ties. We were degraded abroad. We coveted and took the domain of our neighbor. To the world we were the convenanted accessories to the last great crime of civilized humanity. We became provincial. There was a North, a South, an East, a West. There was little comprehension of the vastness of our country, of its far-reaching destinies, of its position in the van of humanity, of its magnificent needs, necessary to obtain its magnificent ends. We were bounded by a parochial narrowness of conception that would seem incredible were it not a part of our own experience. There was no universal education. The statesmen of the South were oligarchs, without a constituency. Liberty was a tolerated alien in her own heritage. Manufactures existed only in the few States north of the Potomac and east of the Alleghanies. The rest of the country depended solely upon agriculture, and was on the track of the remorseless destiny of all communities which begin by exporting their soils in the concentrated richness of their products, and which end by transporting their people from the impoverished fields. Our financial institutions were unstable. Each state had its currency, and all the currency was depraved. We were a nation diseased throughout. The warring elements, whose conflict has in all time been the condition of progress, after twenty years of tentative collisions under pretexts of peace, came to the collision of arms. We now know that the only exit was through the open gates of the temple of Janus.

This sketch of our condition suggests the consequences of the war, and therefore nothing beyond mere indication of what they were is necessary. Slavery was abolished, and with the fall of that Philistian temple beneath the force which, bowing with prayer and strength between its pillars, wrenched them from their base, were crushed the monstrous political and social conceptions which had blinded the nation and led it captive. The manufactory stands neighbor to the field. It is but twenty years since General Sherman ordered the depopulation of Atlanta by removal of its inhabitants. This edict, written with the sword, was denounced by the Confederate General as transcending in studied and ingenious cruelty all acts ever brought to his attention in the dark history of war. The reply of the Federal commander was a masterly vindication of his proceeding and of the nation and its cause. Two decades have passed. Atlanta has become a great manu

facturing city, and it stands to-day regnant over the revolutionized industries of the regions in which the Army of the Tennessee executed the edicts of historical progression by the constructive forces of war. Education is now universal. We have a stable currency: financial panics have become rare. Our disease was such that the nourishment of the head and heart of the nation once produced paralysis of its extremities. Now, whatever is good for any part of the great body politic is good for all its parts.

History has always said too much about the great general, and not enough of the idea which he represents. Great he may be personally, but, after all, his power is one of representation. The modern conqueror is stored with the forces of all the past. In him all time-Charlemagne, Alfred, Galileo, Guttenberg, Luther, Watt, Washington, Napoleon-are militant. History has also said too little of the private soldier. There never were such armies as those which served this nation. Take any regiment and analyze the abilities of its men. It could furnish a classical school with preceptors. It could edit and print a newspaper. It could repair and work a railroad. It could construct and operate a line of telegraph. It could organize and administer a State with constitution, statutes, courts. Myriads of the soldiers of those armies are seen no more in this world. They fought their last fight long ago. They lie embattled in the invincible array of death, on Southern ground, nevermore to be conquered or dispersed, there to sleep the sleep which knows but one awakening. What men they were! In them patriotism dilated to its colossal, antique grandeur. The world will hardly look upon their like again. How vernal their young life opened before them! Through the vistas of their future they saw the alluring visions of fame, honor, power and love. Their country called them from all these. They turned their backs on honor's temple, on fame's enchanting coronet. They unclasped the last embrace of love, felt the holy perfunie of its parting kiss, with premonitions which wandered through eternity, that never again any more in this world could they retaste those surrendered joys. They went down into the valley of the shadow of death as to a festival, singing their country's songs, and of nothing recking except that in their death their country would live forever.

The experience of those who were spared to return enlarged

« EelmineJätka »