Page images
PDF
EPUB

seeming defections from it, just as we do all other matters of a purely moral significance-such as truth, honor, honesty, charity. No man has a right to complain of being wronged in the charge of disloyalty, just because he holds the Constitution, or does not break out in some flagrant treason. He may even be more basely and mischievously disloyal because he does not. By secret connivances, and factious words, and party cabals, he may even serve the enemies of his country more than he could by the open mustering of treason. Let no man whimper at the charge of disloyalty, then, just because he is too much of a dastard in his crime to act himself boldly out and take the risk of a traitor's death. The meanest kind of disloyalty is that which keeps just within the law and only dares not perpetrate the treason it wants to have done; which takes on airs of patriotic concern for the Constitution, when it really has none for all the wrong that can be done it by enemies openly fighting against it. Such persons must be judged morally, just as we judge all pretenders and hypocrites under false shows of virtue., The public understand them well and read them, for the most part, truly, and it is too much to ask that we shall be fools for their sake.

At the same time, there is a possibility of doing injustice in this charge of disloyalty. If we mean by it, as we often seem to do, that the persons charged in this manner have actually broken loose from their allegiance, or that they understand themselves to be really disloyal in their intent, it will often not be true. Moral defections more commonly cheat their victims at the beginning. They do not understand the im moralities in which they are being steeped, and, so far, do not intend them. In the same way it is possible for large masses of citizens to be fooled by the disloyalty they are in. Some of them are young and trust themselves to leaders who prey upon the green age of their confidence. Some are ignorant and are taken artfully by catch-words of which they have really no understanding. And some, again, it must be admitted, have a mean, cold nature, in which all the great sentiments get a place of lodgment with difficulty. They can hardly mount high enough in feeling to conceive what loyalty is. The

sense,

sense of country, family, honor, the political or social runs low in their sterile natures; all the great inspirations take them at an awful disadvantage. Meantime, the crabbed, selfish impulses of clanship and party, are a lean kine of poverty devouring everything noble or generous they might begin to feel. They think they are loyal, it may be, and then they will go to the Constitution or the court records to prove it! But the great heart-how can they have it when it is not in them? We will not deny the bare possibility of a tiny loyal sentiment in them. But who that knows them will ever expect more? Who will even expect them to know that they are disloyal when they are? Going after cabal more easily than after country, what will they do more naturally than give themselves to cabal and call it their country?

We see, in this manner, what multitudes there may be, in every community or country, who fall, as it were, by gravity, into the disloyal state, without intending it, or even knowing it. What, then, shall we say? Shall we class them as loyal! We cannot do that. The best that we can do for them is to call them unloyal, or disloyal, and add the salvos of pity as our qualification. They ought to be condemned, and they must also be pitied. None the less to be pitied are they that they are, some of them, persons who have come, or would hereafter come, into conditions of power and public honor; for the day is at hand, when conditions of power and public honor are forever gone by to them. When this rebellion is finally put down, as it most assuredly will be, then the day of their damnation is come. They can now return to their country, but they must do it soon. To come back into the range of its honor and love when the day of trial is over, is impossible. Then it is too late-the gate is shut! Had we some near and much valued friend who had fallen off into this gulf, our par ticular prayer for him would be, that he might discover his mistake speedily enough, and renounce it ingenuously enough, to be recorded as the friend of his country while the rebellion is still on foot. For after it is once gone down, woe to any man who is obliged to live under the incubus of a name for disloyalty, or a faltering adherence to his country.

At the same time, that we may not seem to speak with unnecessary harshness, there is, truth obliges us to say, another mode, different from those which we have named, in which some persons have been carried over to the verge of disloyalty, by motives that more nearly entitle them to sympathy. We speak of those who have taken part hastily against the government, from a false anxiety to save the government. Who of us, that kept our sobriety, did not cling, for a time, to the status in quo of the political order and law?-the same which has been popularly phrased, "the Constitution as it is”—for how shall we ever get back into a state of settlement, we said, if the terms of settlement are themselves gone by? We saw clearly enough that slavery is one of the most assailable points of weakness on the side of the rebellion, and, if not assailed, that it is even an element of strength in the rebellion. The right of war to assail this point of weakness and turn it on our side, we did not doubt; for it is even a first principle of public law. As little did we doubt that it must finally be done, if the war be long protracted; recoiling still, with instinctive dread, from the terrible necessity. For after public war has begun to gather large numbers of slaves to its aid, no settlement on the basis of slavery will any longer be left; for the manifest reason that who shall be the bond and who the free, will then be a question forever impossible.

First came the Confiscation Act, striking down the title of all masters joining the treason. At length, and probably not too soon, came the Proclamation, so comprehensively worded that the President seemed to assume the right of a general emancipation, by his own civil edict. Many of our most sober and thoughtful citizens were alarmed. It was as if the gates of confusion were opened. They saw the anchor hold of law loosened, and everything drifting towards inextricable anarchy. They took ground hastily, coming, as they thought, to the rescue of the law. They even went so far, in their zeal, as to set upon the government, in a way that, considering the time, was really not loyal, and it drew them farther, even than they knew, towards the rebellion itself.

It is impossible not to yield all such a degree of sympathy,

and we shall do it the more easily if we find them ready now, at the more advanced stage of affairs, to advance also themselves, and modify their sentiments enough to meet our new conditions. No real statesman will undertake to be a mere lawyer, standing fast in the letter, when eternal doom has pushed it by. Every man can see that, under the doom of war, we were bound to just the crisis we have reached, proclamation or no proclamation. It was right, for a time, to say, "the Constitution as it is," but it could not be always. The statesman is no bigot, sticking fast in what he determined rightly, when it is a possibility forever gone by. When affairs move rapidly, the real statesman keeps up with affairs. Noth ing is now left us, from the first nothing was finally to be left us, but to champion the liberty of the slave. We do not understand that the President meant anything more, by his Proclamation, than to seize on the right of war, and to emancipate just as far and as fast as war could execute the fact. If he did, there is no court in the land that would execute his edict farther. In this understanding we can all be agreed, and also in the fact that the river of our destiny now runs where it must. We cannot tie ourselves to the legalities longer, and reason upon the war as if it were only a sheriff's posse out for the arrest of treason. We must take it as war, grim war, having all the rights of war, and must join ourselves heartily to it as the only chance of our future. The debates and misgivings are all over; nothing is now left us but loyalty to the cause. To some extent we have differed honestly, and in ways that do not exclude respect; now there is no place for difference longer.

We have only to add, in conclusion, that when our present struggle is over and triumphantly ended, as it must some time be, then it will be our thanksgiving and joy that we have constitutions and laws more sublime and sacred than we ever thought them to be; a name and heritage more august; and, what is more than all, that we have more heart for our country and a more intensely moral devotion to its honor and perpetuity. We shall then have passed the ordeal of history. Our great battle fields will be hallowed by song. Our great lead

ers and patriots will be names consecrated by historic reverence. We shall be no more a compact, or a confederation, or a composition made up by the temporary surrender of powers, but a nation-God's own nation, providentially planted, established on moral foundations. These throes of civil order are but the schooling of our loyalty, and our political nature itself will be raised, under the discipline, by the sense of a new publie honor and morality. What loyalty was we did not even know before; now we shall know it, and the word, at once, and fact will be American-not American only, but republican.

« PreviousContinue »