Article originally published in Harper’s Weekly, 3 December 1864 (courtesy of sonofthesouth.net)
THE air is full of rumors of peace. It has been so at intervals from the beginning, and will be so to the end of the war. Nothing was more natural than that after the election the blowers of rumors should take out their longest pipes and blow the largest and most glittering of bubbles. Nothing also was truer than General BUTLER’S remark that, having ascertained how unanimous the country is for war if necessary, it is a good time to ascertain whether it be necessary. It is a good time, because there can be no possible misunderstanding. An invitation to the rebels to lay down their arms could not be misinterpreted now, as it might have been at any other period of the war, as a sign of doubt upon the part of the Government. It would be the indication of conscious power and conscious right. It would be the summons to a doomed fortress to surrender after the irresistible strength of the besiegers had been displayed to the garrison in full view.
The experience of his administration teaches us that we may trust the President to do the right thing in this matter at the right time and in the right way. In whatever he does he will neither compromise the authority of the people nor acknowledge any shadow of right in the theory or fact of the rebellion. Neither will he do any thing impatiently or passionately. There is nothing finer in his whole career than his passionless but unswerving patriotism. There has been no self seeking, and a sagacious independence in all his actions. He has not hesitated to alienate at times all parties of his immediate adherents, whenever his sense of duty demanded it, secure always of the permanent approval of the people. Our history does not furnish his master as a statesman.
It is probable that in his Message there will be a frank expression of his views upon the present aspect of the rebellion, and very possibly a direct appeal to the insurgent section of the country, bidding the rebels to ponder the significance of the election ; to look with their own eyes, not through the illusive words of their leaders, at the actual condition and prospect of the rebellion, assuring them that their loyal fellow citizens have but one wish, and that is to live peaceably with them under a common Government, and but one determination—that they will do so.
The conditions of peace are to day what they have always been. They are the same for every man and party in every part of the country. They are submission to the laws and acts in pursuance of the Constitution. If any citizen doubts whether the Confiscation act or the Emancipation proclamation are Constitutional, the President has already referred the question to the Supreme Court. As to “terms” in regard to the rebel leaders, the American people will undoubtedly require that, at the least, they shall be forever ineligible as citizens.
Of course the Government of the people must determine when it is satisfied that any State has resumed its proper relations in the Union. It can not be enough that the State says so. It can not be enough that it goes through the forms of an election. The Government will, of necessity, hold every part of the rebel section which it recovers until it is perfectly assured that the national peace would not be endangered by relinquishing it. The insurgent States, for instance, claimed to secede in their sovereign capacity. If in their sovereign capacity they return, the United States Government will naturally inquire whether, in their sovereign capacity, under any pretense whatever, they propose to secede again. So long as the majority of citizens in any State holds to the doctrine of supreme State sovereignty, the peace of the Union is as much threatened by it as Pennsylvania was by LEE’S army. Can the forces of the United States be withdrawn from a State which claims the right of secession at will? And can the existence of such a majority be determined except by a fair vote upon a constitutional amendment, expressly affirming the indestructibility of the Union?
We shall, however, be spared the present solution of such questions, because whatever the action of our Government in regard to peace, the attitude of the rebels will remain unchanged. While they have any effective military force they will hear only of war. When that force is broken, the anarchy into which the rebel section must surely fall will make the presence of the United States arms a necessity until society can be reconstructed. It is useless, says the President, to jump before you reach the stream. Be ready to leap when you are there. Great questions of policy which perplex us in advance are very apt to present themselves finally in a practicable form. All that we need is to keep certain controlling principles clearly in mind, and as fast as possible adapt our policy to them. Conscious of wishing for honorable peace, and taught by our experience and by reason upon what terms peace can be permanent, we may tranquilly await the opportunity which the rebels alone can furnish.