Frederick Douglass Project Writings: Sudden Revolution in Northern Sentiment

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Douglass' Monthly, May, 1861

During the fast three weeks after the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln's Administration, there was a general sentiment all over the North looking to a peaceful solution of the revolutionary crisis now upon the country.—The Government at Washington seemed to be paralyzed, the Border States were active in their efforts to avert civil war, partly by securing new and stronger guarantees for slavery, and partly by threats of disunion if the Government should attempt to defend itself by force against the rebel force of the so-called Confederate States. Fort Sumter was to be abandoned; other Southern forts were to follow in the same path, and the Secession States were to be acknowledged and to have an easy time generally. Southern Commissioners remained at Washington, and kept up the hopes of the Cotton States by sending encouraging telegrams over the country that things were working well and favorably to all their plans and purposes. Democrats were doing what they could all over the North to cripple and fetter the Republicans, and Republicans themselves were divided as between a policy of peace and a policy of war, each wing of the latter party claiming to represent the spirit and purposes of the Administration. In this general disjointed condition of facts, the Northern people stood apparently powerless.

But what a change now greets us! The Government is aroused, the dead North is alive, and its divided people united. Never was a change so sudden, so universal, and so portentous. The whole North, East and West is in arms. Drums are beating, men are enlisting, companies forming, regiments marching, banners are flying, and money is pouring into the national treasury to put an end to the slaveholding rebellion.

The rebels have all along based the probabilities of success to their unhallowed scheme of battering down the present Government at Washington upon treacherous divisions among the people of the North. An united North was not among their calculations, and there was much in the history of Northern subserviency to the Slave Power to encourage their reckoning. But now all is changed—quite changed. People, press and pulpit, with exceptions too insignificant to mention, are knitted together like the iron links of a coat of mail. "Southern brethren," "forbearance," "concession," "compromise," "peace," and "reconstruction," have everywhere been exchanged for sterner watch-words. The cry now is for war, vigorous war, war to the bitter end, and war till the traitors are effectually and permanently put down. The moral tone of the North has risen, the manly spirit of the North is quickened, and its activity, enterprize and energy are all ranged on the side of the National Government.

If, however, the change in the popular feeling has been quick and sudden, the causes leading thereto have been long maturing.—The Government has been patient, forbearing and long suffering beyond all example. It had seen inflammatory appeals and heard rebellious threats six months ago, and for the last four months it has seen treason actively organizing itself in Conventions for Secession, into all sorts of military bodies for resisting and defying the power of the United States; it has seen seven States formally secede from the Union, and set up a Government for themselves; it has seen the armed traitors robbing and plundering its property, and seizing its own means of self-preservation; it has seen its own flag insulted and hauled down over its own forts and arsenals; it has seen frowning forts and batteries erected for the very purpose of disputing its authority and securing its overthrow; and still it hoped and waited for the return of reason and good feeling, without lifting an arm or firing a ball; but when it saw an attempt to starve out Major Anderson and his men from Fort Sumter, and open all their rebel batteries for the destruction of that fortress, both Government and people were compelled to awake from all dreams of peace.

Whatever else may take place, one thing at least is certain, the slaveholding rebellion will be crushed out, and its leaders covered with execrations and curses in the very sections where they have been most popular. They have blinded and befooled the people into the belief that great masses of men at the North and in the Middle States would stand by them in their unprovoked and fratricidal war upon the Government. They have boasted their ability to send more men into the field because of their slavery. They have spoken of themselves as giants and heroes, and of Northern men as pigmies and cowards. They have laughed at the President's proclamation, and contrasted the strength and sagacity of Montgomery with the weakness and imbecility of Washington. What a revulsion in popular feeling will come over the South when it finds it has been deceived, misled and ruined, for ruined it will be. Let the ports of the South be blockaded; let business there be arrested; let provisions, arms and ammunition be no longer sent there; let the grim visage of a Northern army confront them from one direction, a furious slave insurrection meet them at another, and starvation threaten them from still another, and they will begin to murmur a discontent which will surely break out at last in bitter execration and curses upon the guilty authors of their triple woes. The confederate slaveholding traitors are now only on the outer wave of the whirlpool of treason; every circle they now make will bring them nearer the centre that is certain to swallow them up, and hurl them to the bottom of its howling waters.