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BRITISH COMMONER AND CHRISTIAN STATESMAN:
THE FRIEND OF MY COUNTRY, BECAUSE THE FRIEND OF MANKIND.
This Record of a Nation's Struggle
FROM DARKNESS AND BONDAGE TO LIGHT AND LIBERTY,
IS REGARDFULLY, GRATEFULLY INSCRIBED
No one can realize more vividly than I do, that the History through whose pages our great-grand-children will contemplate the momentous struggle whereof this country has recently been and still is the arena, will not and cannot now be written; and that its author must give to the patient, careful, critical study of innumerable documents and letters, an amount of time and thought which I could not have commanded, unless I had been able to devote years, instead of months only, to the preparation of this volume. I know, at least, what History is, and how it must be made; I know how very far this work must fall short of the lofty ideal. If any of my numerous fellow-laborers in this field is deluded with the notion that he has written the history of our gigantic civil war, I, certainly, am free from like hallucination.
What I have aimed to do, is so to arrange the material facts, and so to embody the more essential documents, or parts of documents, illustrating those facts, that the attentive, intelligent reader may learn from this work not only what were the leading incidents of our civil war, but its causes, incitements, and the inevitable sequence whereby ideas proved the germ of events. I believe the thoughtful reader of this volume can hardly fail to see that the great struggle in which we are engaged was the unavoidable result of antagonisms imbedded in the very nature of our heterogeneous institutions ;—that ours was indeed 'an irrepressible conflict,' which might have been precipitated or postponed, but could by no means have been prevented;—that the successive compromises,' whereby it was so long put off, were-however intended—deplorable mistakes, detrimental to our National character;—that we ought-so early, at least, as 1819—to have definitively and conclusively established the right of the constitutional majority to shape our National policy according to their settled convictions, subject only to the Constitution as legally expounded and applied. Had the majority then stood firm, they would have precluded the waste of thousands of millions of treasure and rivers of generous blood.
I presume this work goes further back, and devotes more attention to the remoter, more recondite causes of our civil strife, than any rival. At all events, I have aimed to give a full and fair, though necessarily condensed, view of all that impelled to our desperate struggle. I have so often heard or read this demurrer—"You Abolitionists begin with Secession, or the bombardment of Sumter, slurring over all that you had done, through a series of years, to provoke the Sonth to hostilities,” that I have endeavored to meet that objection fairly and fully. If I have failed to dig down to the foundations, the defect flows from lack of
or deficiency of perception in the author; for he has intently purposed and aimed to begin at the beginning.
I have made frequent and copious citations from letters, speeches, messages, and other documents
, many of which have not the merit of rarity; mainly because I could only thus present the views of political antagonists in terms which they must recognize and respect as authentic. In an age of passionate controversy, few are capable even of stating an opponent's position in language that he will admit to be accurate and fair. And there are thousands who cannot to-day realize that they ever held opinions and accepted dogmas to which they unhesitatingly subscribed less than ten years ago. There is, then, but one safe
and just way to deal with the tenets and positions from time to time held by contending parties—this, namely: to cite fully and fairly from the platforms' and other formal declarations of sentiment put forth by each; or in the absence of these) from the speeches, messages, and other authentic utterances, of their accepted, recognized chiefs. This I have constantly and very freely done throughout this volume. Regarding the progress of Opinion toward absolute, universal justice, as the one great end which hallows effort and recompenses sacrifice, I have endeavored to set forth clearly, not only what my countrymen, at different times, have done, but what the great parties into which they are or have been divided have believed and affirmed, with regard more especially to Human Slavery, and its rights and privileges in our Union. And, however imperfectly my task may have been performed, I believe that no preēxisting work has so fully and consistently exhibited the influences of Slavery in molding the opinions of our people, as well as in shaping the destinies of our country.
To the future historian, much will be very easy that now is difficult; as much will in his day be lucid which is now obscure; and he may take for granted, and dispatch in a sentence, truths that have now to be established by pains-taking research and elaborate citation. But it is by the faithful fulfillment of the duties incumbent on us, his predecessors, that his labors will be lightened and his averments rerdered concise, positive, and correct. Our work, well done, will render his task easy, while increasing the value of its fruits.
Some ancient historians favor their readers with speeches of generals and chiefs to their soldiers on the eve of battle, and on other memorable occasions; which, however characteristic and fitting, are often of questionable authenticity. Modern history draws on ampler resources, and knows that its materials are seldom apocryphal. What Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Laurens, the Pinckneys, Marshall, Jackson, Clay, Calhoun, Webster, etc., etc., have from time to time propounded as to the nature and elements of our Federal pact, the right or wrong of Secession, the extension or restriction of Slavery under our National flag, etc., etc., is on record; and we know, beyond the possibility of mistake, its precise terms as well as its general purport. We stand, as it were, in the immediate presence of the patriot sages and heroes who made us a nation, and listen to their wellweighed utterances as if they moved in life among us to-day. Not to have cited them in exposure and condemnation of the novelties that have so fearfully disturbed our peace, would have been to slight and ignore some of the noblest lessons ever given by wisdom and virtue for the instruction and guidance of mankind.
It has been my aim to recognize more fully than has been usual the legitimate position and necessary influence of the Newspaper Press of our day in the discussion and decision of the great and grave questions from time to time arising among us. To-day, the history of our country is found recorded in the columns of her journals more fully, promptly, vividly, than elsewhere. More and more is this becoming the case with other countries throughout the civilized world. A history which takes no account of what was said by the Press in memorable emergencies befits an earlier age than ours.
As my plan does not contemplate the invention of any facts, I must, of course, in narrating the events of the war, draw largely from sources common to all writers on this theme, but especially from The Rebellion Record of Mr. Frank Moore, wherein the documents eluci