THE purpose of the writer of this work is to present a Constitutional view of the late War between the States of "the Union," known as the "United States of America."
The view is intended to embrace a consideration of the causes, the character, conduct and results of this War, in relation to the nature and character of the joint Government of these States; and of its effects upon the nature and character of this Government, as well as of its effects upon the separate Governments, Constitutions and general internal Institutions of the States themselves. The subject is one that does not fall clearly within the domain of History, in the usual acceptation of that word. The design is rather to deal with the materials of History than to supply them. It is not so much to present any portion of American History, as it is, by Historical analysis, to show what are the principles embodied in those systems of Government established, by the Anglo-Saxons, on this Continent, and to illustrate their singularly happy adaptation, so long as adhered to, to the situation and character of the North American States.
The chief usefulness of all History consists in the lessons it teaches, in properly estimating the compound result of the action of the principles of any system of Government upon human conduct, and the counter-action of human conduct upon these principles, in effecting those moral and political changes which mark the type, as well as progress, of civilization, at all times, and in all countries. Mankind cannot live without Society or Association. Organized communities, with Governments of some sort, are no more universal than essential to the existence of the Genus Homo, with all its Species and Varieties, in every age and clime. The organic laws, which enter into the Structure of any such Association, Society, Community, Commonwealth, State, or Nation, by whatever name it may be designated, form what may be styled the Constitution of that particular Organism. These are the elementary principles, from which spring the vital functions of the Political Being, thus brought into existence, and upon which depend, mainly, the future development of the Organism, and the character, as well as standard, of its civilization. But, while these Structural laws act upon Society, in its embryo state, as well as in shaping its subsequent development, Society is also constantly acting back upon them. As individual life, in all its forms and stages, is said to be the result of a war between opposing agencies, so it is with the political life or existence of every body politic.
Between the primary laws, from which Society first springs, and takes its first form and shape, and the internal movements of Society itself, in its progress, there are continued action and counter-action, producing endless changes, from slight innovations or alternations to entire Revolutions. With these come, either for better or worse, entire changes of the type, as well as standard, of civilization.* History, for the most part, has confined itself, from the earliest times, to presenting but one side of this complex subject. It has devoted itself so exclusively to the consideration of human action only, that this has become, in general estimation, if not by common consent, its peculiar Province. Hence, it treats chiefly of men, their deeds, their achievements, their characters, their motives, their patriotism or ambition, and the impress their actions make upon Society.
* "The Institutions of a people, political and moral, are the matrix, in which the germ of their organic structure quickens into life, takes root, develops in form, nature and character. Our Institutions constitute the basis the matrix from which spring all our characteristics of development and greatness. Look at Greece! There is the same fertile soil; the same blue sky; the same inlets and harbors; the same Ægean; the same Olympus; there is the same land, where Homer sung; where Pericles spoke; it is, in nature, the same old Greece; but it is 'living Greece no more!'
"Descendants of the same people inhabit the country; yet, what is the reason of this mighty difference? In the midst of present degradation, we see the glorious fragments of ancient works of art-temples, with ornaments and inscriptions that excite wonder and admiration the remains of a once high order of civilization, which have outlived the language they spoke! Upon them all, Ichabod is written their glory has departed! Why is this so? I answer this, their Institutions have been destroyed! These were but the fruits of their forms of Government the matrix from which their grand development sprung. And when once the Institutions of our people shall have been destroyed, there is no earthly power that can bring back the Promethean spark, to kindle them here again, any more than in that ancient land of eloquence, poetry and song!" Author's Union Speech, 14 November, 1860.
The opposite workings and effects of principles, or the results of their neglect, upon the very actions of men, of which they treat so largely, receive but slight, if any attention, even in the most graphic descriptions of the most terrible convulsions, which, if traced to their origin, would often, and most frequently, perhaps, be found to arise, as effect follows cause, from these very principles or organic laws themselves. Those writings upon such subjects, whether considered as Historical or otherwise, are most to be prized as contributions to the general stock of knowledge, which treat of both of these elements of human destiny, together; and, in the progress of any political organism, trace, with Philosophic hand, the connection between them, and the reciprocal bearing they have upon each other.
In the prosecution of the design of the writer, it has not been his purpose to treat, at all, of men or their actions, civil or military, further than they relate to, or bear upon, those principles which are involved in the subject under consideration. Principles constitute the subject-matter of his work. Times change, and men often change with them, but principles never! These, like truths, are eternal, unchangeable and immutable!
Most of the diseases with which the human system is afflicted, proceed, as natural and inevitable consequences, from the violation or neglect of some one or more of the vital laws of its organization. All violent fevers and convulsions have their origin in this, though the real cause may be too occult to be ascertained by the most skilful Pathologist. So with political organizations, whether simple or complex, single or Federal. No great disorders ever occur in them without some similar real cause.
It is a postulate, with many writers of this day, that the late War was the result of two opposing ideas, or principles, upon the subject of African Slavery. Between these, according to their theory, sprung the "irrepressible conflict," in principle, which ended in the terrible conflict of arms. Those who assume this postulate, and so theorize upon it, are but superficial observers.
That the War had its origin in opposing principles, which, in their action upon the conduct of men, produced the ultimate collision of arms, may be assumed as an unquestionable fact. But the opposing principles which produced these results in physical action were of a very different character from those assumed in the postulate. They lay in the organic Structure of the Government of the States. The conflict in principle arose from different and opposing ideas as to the nature of what is known as the General Government. The contest was between those who held it to be strictly Federal in its character, and those who maintained that it was thoroughly National. It was a strife between the principles of Federation, on the one side, and Centralism, or Consolidation, on the other.
Slavery, so called, was but the question on which these antagonistic principles, which had been in conflict, from the beginning, on divers other questions, were finally brought into actual and active collision with each other on the field of battle.
Some of the strongest Anti-slavery men who ever lived were on the side of those who opposed the Centralizing principles which led to the War. Mr. Jefferson was a striking illustration of this, and a prominent example of a very large class of both sections of the country, who were, most unfortunately, brought into hostile array against each other. No more earnest or ardent devotee to the emancipation of the Black race, upon humane, rational and Constitutional principles, ever lived than he was. Not even Wilberforce himself was more devoted to that cause than Mr. Jefferson was. And yet Mr. Jefferson, though in private life at the time, is well known to have been utterly opposed to the Centralizing principle, when first presented, on this question, in the attempt to impose conditions and restrictions on the State of Missouri, when she applied for admission into the Union, under the Constitution. He looked upon the movement as a political manuvre to bring this delicate subject (and one that lay so near his heart) into the Federal Councils, with a view, by its agitation in a forum where it did not properly belong, to strengthen the Centralists in their efforts to revive their doctrines, which had been so signally defeated on so many other questions. The first sound of their movements on this question fell upon his ear as a "fire bell at night." The same is true of many others. Several of the ablest opponents of that State Restriction, in Congress, were equally well known to be as decidedly in favor of emancipation as Mr. Jefferson was. Amongst these, may be named Mr. Pinkney and Mr. Clay, from the South, to say nothing of those men from the North, who opposed that measure with equal firmness and integrity.
It is the fashion of many writers of the day to class all who opposed the Consolidationists in this, their first step, as well as all who opposed them in all their subsequent steps, on this question, with what they style the Pro-Slavery Party. No greater injustice could be done any public men, and no greater violence be done to the truth of History, than such a classification. Their opposition to that measure, or kindred subsequent ones, sprung from no attachment to Slavery; but, as Jefferson's, Pinkney's and Clay's, from their strong convictions that the Federal Government had no rightful or Constitutional control or jurisdiction over such questions; and that no such action, as that proposed upon them, could be taken by Congress without destroying the elementary and vital principles upon which the Government was founded.
By their acts, they did not identify themselves with the Pro-Slavery Party (for, in truth, no such Party had, at that time, or at any time in the History of the Country, any organized existence). They only identified themselves, or took position, with those who maintained the Federative character of the General Government.
In 1850, for instance, what greater injustice could be done any one, or what greater violence could be done the truth of History, than to charge Cass, Douglas, Clay, Webster and Fillmore, to say nothing of others, with being advocates of Slavery, or following in the lead of the Pro- Slavery Party, because of their support of what were called the adjustment measures of that year?
Or later still, out of the million and a half, and more, of the votes cast, in the Northern States, in 1860, against Mr. Lincoln how many, could it, with truth, be said, were in favor of Slavery or even that legal subordination of the Black race to the White which existed in the Southern States?
Perhaps, not one in ten thousand! It was a subject, with which, they were thoroughly convinced, they had nothing to do, and could have nothing to do, under the terms of the Union, by which the States were Confederated, except to carry out, and faithfully perform, all the obligations of the Constitutional Compact, in regard to it.
They simply arrayed themselves against that Party which had virtually hoisted the banner of Consolidation. The contest, so commenced, which ended in the War, was, indeed, a contest between opposing principles; but not such as bore upon the policy or impolicy of African Subordination. They were principles deeply underlying all considerations of that sort. They involved the very nature and organic Structure of the Government itself. The conflict, on this question of Slavery, in the Federal Councils, from the beginning, was not a contest between the advocates or opponents of that peculiar Institution, but a contest, as stated before, between the supporters of a strictly Federative Government, on the one side, and a thoroughly National one, on the other.
It is the object of this work to treat of these opposing principles, not only in their bearings upon the minor question of Slavery, as it existed in the Southern States, and on which they were brought into active collision with each other, but upon others (now that this element of discord is removed) of far more transcendant importance, looking to the great future, and the preservation of that Constitutional Liberty which is the birthright of every American, as well as the solemnly- guaranteed right of all who may here, in this new world, seek an asylum from the oppressions of the old.
The general scope of the work is intended to embrace:
First. An inquiry into the nature of the Government of the United States, or the nature of that Union which exists between the States under the Constitution, with the causes, or conflict of principles, which led to a resort to arms; and the character of the War, thus inaugurated.
Secondly. The conduct of the War on both sides, so far as it affected Constitutional principles, with its final results upon the organic structure of the entire system of American Democratic Free Institutions.
It was the writer's intention, at first, to embody the whole in one volume; but, as he progressed, he found the materials so massive, and the subject so vast, that it was utterly impossible to do justice to the great theme in so small a compass.
He finds quite enough for one volume wrought up under the first part of his design. This he has concluded to give to the public in advance of what may follow hereafter; especially, as what is now prepared is perfectly complete in itself, upon the general head on which it treats; that is, the nature of the Government of the United States, and those organic principles from which the conflict arose. The remaining portions of his design will be embraced in an additional volume, to be issued as soon as circumstances will permit.
As to the manner of execution, or the form in which the view is presented, a few words may be proper. The method adopted is the Colloquial style. This manner of treating subjects of this character is, as far as he knows, without precedent in this age and country. He was aware, therefore, of the difficulties to be encountered on this score. He felt the risk attending putting forth any thing, in the form of a Book, which, in its departure from the usual mode of treating subjects of the character in hand, might not be in accordance with the ruling taste of the day. He remembered, however, that such subjects, In remoter times, were thus treated by the master writers of antiquity.
Plato and Cicero are illustrious examples. Without any purpose to imitate these classic models, it was enough for him to know that the plan adopted by him, in this particular, was not without well- established precedents in other ages and countries.
But the real controlling reason which determined his coarse in the matter was that it was in strict accordance with nature. If writing be an art, and if art, in this line, consists in presenting to the mind real images of nature, through the medium of language, as painting does by colors, then he has not deviated from a proper rule of taste, so far as relates to the method adopted. For these Colloquies are but an elaboration of conversations actually had at his residence, as they purport, in substance, to be.
It so happened, in the spring, and early part of the summer, of 1867, while the writer was at his home, devoting his mind, in that quiet retreat, to the general subjects herein discussed, with a view to the preparation of a work of some sort, upon them, for publication, that he was visited, at different times, by great numbers of his old friends, from the Northern States, representing almost every shade of opinion upon the present state of public affairs. During these visits, conversations were had, and very thoroughly indulged in, with perfect good temper, on all sides, upon all these subjects. These actual Colloquies, with rare exceptions, began just as the following pages begin and they usually took the same course.
As this was so general, and almost universal, it seemed to indicate that line or mode of writing, on the same subjects, which would be the most natural for the entertainment of the great majority of those who might be disposed to read any thing that might be written upon them.
Hence the conclusion as to the mode of treatment now presented. Whether it will be acceptable to modern taste, the test of experiment must disclose. It certainly enabled the writer to present the views of both sides more clearly and forcibly, upon many points, than he could have done in a more stately or didactic form.
The only fiction in the machinery is in true names of the parties, and in connecting the whole discussion with the same persons. The real names of the parties, for obvious reasons, are not given. Others, and entirely fictitious ones, are substituted. For unity in the general plan, three representative characters, thus selected, are retained throughout the discussion.
JUDGE BYNUM. from Massachusetts, represents, throughout, that class of visitants who belong to what is called the Radical branch of the Republican Party. PROFESSOR NORTON, from Connecticut, represents, in like manner, those of that class known as the Conservative branch of the same Party; while MAJOR HEISTER, from Pennsylvania, represents those of that class known as War Democrats.
The living prototypes of each of these fictitious representatives were in the actual conversations had; and the writer trusts, when the real characters shall see, if they ever do, the reports, now given to the public, of the actual Colloquies which took place, and the parts they took in them, that they will not feel that any injustice has been done to them or their positions.
With this explanation, let the reader imagine all the parties in the Portico, at Liberty Hall, the day after the arrival of the guests, and after the usual salutations and inquiries, upon the reunion of old acquaintances and personal friends especially upon such a re-union, after years of separation, and these years marked by such scenes as marked those of the separation in this case and he will be fully prepared for the curtain to rise and to be entertained, or not, with what follows in the Colloquies, according to his taste and judgment.
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