Frederick Douglass Project Writings: The Union and How to Save It

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Douglass' Monthly,February, 1861

In viewing the alleged causes of the present perilous and dilapidated condition of the Federal Union, and the various plans by which it is proposed to set that Union in safety, all manly sensibility is shocked, and all human patience breaks down in disgust and indignation at the spectacle. The attitude of the Northern people in this crisis will crimson the cheeks of their children's children with shame. As between the North and the South, history will record the fact, that the latter, though engaged in a villainous and wicked cause, acted bravely, and displayed a manly spirit, while the former, with the best of causes, and pledged to it in open daylight before millions of their countrymen, acted the part of miserable cowards, insensible alike to the requirements of self-respect or duty. Was ever a people so terribly frightened as are we of the North at this moment? We have been singing and shouting free speech! free speech! on every Northern stump during the last ten years, and yet one rebellious frown of South Carolina has muzzled the mouths of all our large cities, and filled the air with whines for compromise. Boston gets up a mob; Philadelphia shuts her halls; Rochester follows in the humiliating train. The South in thus scaring us, and succeeding in possessing herself of the palpable evidence of our fright, has attained one essential condition to complete mastery. We are now as pliant and obedient to our Southern masters, as are the subdued "Cruisers," and other fractious horses under the strap of the matchless Mr. Rarey. We used to hear and read of the aggressions of slavery, of the insolent demands of the Slave Power, and cries of down with the slave-holding oligarchy.

"But all is now so hushed and mum;
You'd think
your Atherton had come."

What is this but a premium to insolence, a petition for increased contempt, and humble solicitation to be kicked again? Faith, the human flesh-mongers see at every step the effect of their medicine, and every day they "down with another dose." First they talk of the slow process of "co-operation" as a condition to breaking up the Union; then they talk of the right of individual States to secede; and finding both Government and people appalled with fear, they fall to seizing forts, arsenals, arms and ammunition, capturing Custom Houses, Post Offices, tearing down the national flag, and firing upon an unarmed Government vessel, with the national flag flying at her mast-head. After all this, they send their Commissioners to Washington to denounce coercion in the very teeth of the Government which they have robbed, plundered, insulted, spit upon and defied. Any other Government on the earth would have hanged every traitor Commissioner venturing into its presence. They build forts day and night and man them with a thousand men, and yet demand the removal from among them the keepers of the only fort they have not stolen, to save the effusion of blood! Aftercoming generations will hardly believe the story of the present hour. The arrogance and impudence of the traitors are only exceeded by the sneaking cowardice and pitiful imbecility of the Government, and of the Northern people, who, by mobbing down freedom of speech, crying "no coercion," and whining for compromise, prove themselves of a piece with the Government. The position of the North in this crisis is really too selfish, mean and craven for the slaveholder, and they despise and scorn all overtures from this quarter. Well might Mr. Slaveholder Iverson ask what are concessions worth, wrung from the fears of the North? The doughface who concedes, from fear, can be made to recede under the same mean impulse. Iverson has flogged too many slaves to put much confidence in promises of obedience made under the lash. The children of this generation are wiser than the children of light.

Look at our statesmen in and out of Congress. In assuming to deal with this subject, they neither appear to apprehend the causes of the trouble, nor the remedy. Their speeches and letters would make the impression that right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice, humanity and cruelty, honesty and perfidy, progression and retrogression, can have their natures, characters and results all changed by some cunning legislative device; that there is some process for circumventing the natural operation of the eternal laws of the universe by which they may do evil and obtain good, sow the wind and escape the whirlwind, touch pitch and not be defiled, gather grapes of thorns, and figs of thistles, and all other like impossible things in all sorts of impossible ways. Shame upon this cowardly, guilty and fantastical method of dealing with the stupendous crime and curse, which our statesmen are either too blind to see, or too dishonest to confess to be the real cause of our national troubles. They beat the bush, but dare not enter; they talk of "passion," "sectional feeling," "misrepresentation of object," the "South deceived," as the causes of the treason and rebellion which, thirsting for blood, are about to plunge the nation into all the horrors of civil war, and all the dark and dreadful possibilities of anarchy.

Now, what disturbs, divides and threatens to bring on civil war, and to break up and ruin this country, but slavery. Who but one morally blind can fail to see it; and who but a moral coward can hesitate to declare it.—Fifteen States are bent upon the ascendency, and endless perpetuation of this system of immeasurable wickedness and numberless crimes, and are determined either to make it the law of the whole country, or destroy the Government. Against this inhuman and monstrous purpose are arraigned the enlightenment of the age, checking and overthrowing tyranny, liberating the bondman from his chains in all quarters of the globe, and extending constitutional liberty to long oppressed nationalities; against it are the instinctive sentiments of humanity, shuddering at the thought of chattelized humanity; against it are the eternal laws of liberty, goodness, justice and progress, dispelling the darkness of barbarism, exposing the hollowness of a corrupt priesthood, under the sanction of whose dark mummeries all the hell-black crimes of human bondage have found, in this country, their greatest security; against it are the ever-increasing triumphs in the arts of civilization, reducing the importance of mere brute force to nothing in comparison with intellectual power; against it are all the promptings, aspirations, convictions and sympathies of unperverted human nature, and the God in history everywhere pronouncing the doom of those nations which frame mischief by law, and revel in selfishness and blood. It is the concussion of these natural elements against slavery which now rock the land, and sends us staggering about as if shaken by an earthquake. Here is the cause of the trouble. It is slavery, the sum of all villainies, on the one hand, and all the silent but mighty forces of nature on the other. Here is and must ever remain the irrepressible conflict, until slavery is abolished or human nature, with all its divine attributes, is changed and made to reflect the image of hell instead of heaven.

Slavery is the disease, and its abolition in every part of the land is essential to the future quiet and security of the country. Any union which can possibly be patched up while slavery exists, must either completely demoralize the whole nation, or remain a heartless form, disguising, under the smiles of friendship, a vital, active and ever-increasing hate, sure to explode in violence. It is a matter of life and death. Slavery must be all in the Union, or it can be nothing. This is fully understood by the slaveholders of the cotton States and hence they can accept no compromise, no concession, no settlement that does not exalt slavery above every other interest in the country. While there is a press unfettered, or a human tongue left free, the land will be filled with alarm and agitation. Any compromise which shall leave men free in any corner of the Republic to feel, think, and utter their thoughts, will contain the seeds of its own destruction, and leave to the future what ought to be done to-day. Instead of looking around for means of reconciling freedom and slavery, how immeasurably better would it be if, in our national councils, some Wilberforce or a Buxton could arise, and, looking at the subject from the highest point of a wise statesmanship, which is ever in harmony with immutable laws of progress and development, scorning all the petty tricks of the mere politician, propose a plan for the complete abolition of slavery. Is America more selfish and less humane than Russia?—Is she less honest and benevolent than England? Is she more stolid and insensible to the claims of humanity than the Dutch?—What should hinder her from following the human example, and adopting the enlightened policy of those nations? Whether this is done or not, herein, and herein alone is the basis of solid peace, and the country must remain a spectacle of anarchy, and be a byword and a hissing to a mocking earth, till this basis of eternal justice and liberty shall be the foundation of our Union.

All compromises now are but as new wine to old bottles, new cloth to old garments. To attempt them as a means of peace between freedom and slavery, is as to attempt to reverse irreversible law. The "irrepressible conflict" still proceeds, and must continue till the merciful spirit of Christianity and civilization shall be extinguished and cease to have a single heart and voice to plead her cause, or slavery dies. If there is not wisdom and virtue enough in the land to rid the country of slavery, then the next best thing is to let the South go to her own place, and be made to drink the wine cup of wrath and fire, which her long career of cruelty, barbarism and blood shall call down upon her guilty head.