Pessimistic Northern Editorial as Civil War Begins
Early 1861 was a confusing time in the United States. In February seven seceding states formed the Confederate States of America and seized federal forts and other property. By April rumors were sweeping the country about what Lincoln’s policy was going to be, whether an attack upon Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor was imminent, and fears that civil war was about to begin. Right at this time a surprisingly negative editorial was published in a Northern newspaper, declaring “We do not see any hope.”
That paper was the Weekly Wisconsin Patriot. Its editorial despaired that Lincoln was not being decisive. It worried about what the true cost of a war would be, and questioned if peace was even possible. It also reminded its readers that in the Revolutionary War England had the edge in population and wealth but lost nonetheless—thanks in large part to the leadership, courage and fighting ability of men from the South.
The editorial appeared in the Weekly Wisconsin Patriot (Madison, Wisconsin) on April 13, 1861—ironically, the very day that Fort Sumter surrendered, signaling that the Civil War the newspaper worried about had indeed begun:
What Means All This Commotion?
We confess the telegrams we receive daily are of the most aggravating and unsatisfactory nature. First, Fort Sumter is not to be reinforced—and then it is “at all hazards.” The President in one sentence is bent on war, and in another, peace is his programme. Now, this is not only perplexing, but tends to keep up an intense excitement, calculated to destroy all confidence in commerce and trade. We trust, the President will soon develop some plan. If that be war, so be it, and let blows be struck thick and fast, so that the country may know on what to depend. It if be peace, for heaven’s sake let us have some proof. We don’t ask Mr. Lincoln to publish his programme in advance, for that might be injudicious, at such a time as this, but we do want to get hold of some tangible act, by which we may judge of what the programme is to be.
…We ask these questions for no embarrassment, but because they are proper ones, and which those who know human nature and the Southern character must answer. If the administration is really bent on war, it is proper to count the cost, and estimate the profits—keeping in view the great leading first cause—the nigger. The American people, who will have to foot the bills, and share the future shame or glory, cannot be supposed to be silent and unconcerned spectators in the threatened bloody melee.
…Depend upon it, that if we go to war among ourselves, the Eagle of France will prick out our eyes, and the Lion of Great Britain will make a hearty meal out of our carcass. Fix it, twist it, turn it and solve it, any way you will, and the consequences of this long and acrimonious war on slavery will be the downfall of this government. We do not see any hope, even though we should agree to an amicable peace and partition with the South tomorrow, and still less hope have we if we go to war with our Southern brethren.
If nature had erected some natural barrier between the Free and Slave states, such as the English Channel—the Alps, or even the Bosphorus or Mississippi—or even if the two sections spoke different tongues, and were not allied by birth and marriage—we might hope for peace from an amicable settlement. But as it is, we speak one language—the sons of the North have married the daughters of the South, and, vice versa, no division separates us, save an imaginary geographical line, over which a cart or wheel-barrow may pass without obstruction. To divide a people of one language, with totally dissimilar interests, by such a line as this—under such circumstances as now embroil them—is preposterous in the extreme. If a division of all public property—forts, lands, &c., could be made today, and a treaty of peace and amity signed by every citizen on both sides of said line, it would not be six months before we should see hostile armies desecrating said line by the tread of bloody intent. For some thoughtless, hair-brained abolitionist would go among our Southern brethren to trade, or for other purposes, to show both his “courage,” “independence,” and dislike to the “peculiar institution,” would throw out some invective, which would cost him a suit of tar and cotton, to say nothing of sundry other “mild” treatment. This in time would be resented, and before diplomacy could be called in to settle the indignity—even if that could do it—a band of “freedom regulators” would take the matter into their own hands, and by paying their ill-bred neighbors a nocturnal visit, deal out vengeance for the insult, “on their own hook.” This in time would provoke a bloody “rejoinder,” of more power and force, and so on till the military would be called out on both sides, and brimstone and saltpeter would be the complimentary missiles daily sent across the imaginary line, and thus our country would be continually embroiled in a war—a guerilla border war, the most bloody and disastrous of all wars on the face of the globe.
And, as among the causes, does any man believe—that after a separation, the Underground Railroad would be less actively engaged than now? This, alone, would be a continual cause of strife and bloodshed; so that we see no hope for permanent peace, even though we should now conclude a treaty of peace.
And, on the other hand, where is a war to end? God only knows. Will that war ever end so as to secure the objects of the Chicago platform, and to shut out slavery forever from all new territory? Of all doubts in the world, that is the most doubtful. Even admit the South to be whipped—are they thereby conquered? Who will pretend to believe that the scattering of bombshells and other death messengers among the Southern people, will make them willing to abandon their Slave property? They never will do it. We can read that fact in every Southern Revolutionary battle, and in the personal history of descendants of those who dared a foe more powerful, in proportion to circumstances, than the Northern States. We must not—we cannot deny the courage and bravery of the South, without giving the lie to history, and insulting the memory of the past. They are at least our equals in courage, and we fear our superiors in the use of deadly hand weapons; and if war comes, we must not rely too much on the power of numbers or the quantity of dollars, but should aim to be clearly in the right on all points, while we study the history of David and Goliath. No man ever gained a point by underrating a foe. We must calculate on meeting 12,000,000 of brave men, and we must give them the credit of believing that they think they are fighting for a “Divine Institution,” for their own hearth stones. Three millions of our forefathers finally conquered a nation of their own kinsmen, numbering more than six times their own numerical strength. True, they had the advantage of home to fight for, and no necessity to go away to find an enemy. Precisely so with the South, and in that they will have vastly the advantage. Consider how much less costly it would be to us to stay at home and defend our ports, than it would be to man and send our entire navy to blockade Southern ports. And, too, they would thrive in our northern latitude, during the sickly summer season, while woe to the Northern soldier who may be on duty in August, in the yellow fever districts. Better a thousand times meet the most courageous fire-eater face to face, in a hand-to-hand contest, than to grapple with that dreadful malady, so universally fatal to unacclimated systems.
These, and a hundred other considerations, should now be taken into account, so that the columns of profit and loss may be properly posted to begin with. And now, reader, how do you like the two pictures? Which do you prefer, the peace or the war horn of the dilemma? We confess, that so far as the unknown future is concerned, the toss of a copper might decide. So far as our horoscope extends we by all means should prefer peace, if peace would lead to restoration; but peace with a division on a geographical imaginary line, would be like the traveller’s eggs—too hard, notwithstanding they had been boiled two hours.
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