As the American civil war begins, an editorial in the Manchester Guardian questions whether the Union can survive in its present form
War to the knife must now be understood to be the resolution adopted, on second thoughts, by the government of the United States. We say on second thoughts, because it will be remembered that Mr. Lincoln, at the time of his inauguration, allowed no sign of a desire to push matters to this extremity. He was going, he said, to hold the property belonging to the Union in the seceded states, and to insist upon the collection of the federal revenue, but he disclaimed all intention of making war upon the self-styled Confederation of the South.
May we not think that the creditable and unexpected manifestation of loyalty in the North has had more even than the aggressive movement made by the rebels at Fort Sumter to do with the change for the fiercer which has come over the spirit of the President?
The effect of that change is most forcibly expressed in the first letter of instructions sent by Mr. Secretary Seward to the new American Minister at Paris, which, with the curious taste observed in American public manners, is given to the world at large before it can have been received by the foreign government to which it is virtually addressed.
Hereby we are given to understand that there is to be no further parley with the rebels, who, on the contrary, are to be reduced to submission with an uncompromising sternness of resolution which even imperialism may well envy.
‘You cannot,’ he says, ‘be too decided or explicit in making known to the French government that there is not now, nor has there been, nor will there be any, the least, idea existing in this government of suffering a dissolution of this Union to take place in any way whatever. There will be here only one nation, and one government; and there will be the same Republic and the same constitutional Union that have already survived a dozen national changes of government in almost every other country. These will stand, hereafter, as they are now, objects of human wonder and human affection.’
Whatever may be the course or duration of the civil struggle, that ‘the same Republic and the same constitution’ which we have hitherto known should be evolved from it is not, on any hypothesis, a conceiveable issue. To predict such results with the precision and emphasis which he employs, may possibly seem to Mr. Seward’s countrymen an inspiriting example of courage in the face of difficulties; but we regret to say that our own experience does not induce us to associate such vain affectations with clearness of purpose or consciousness of strength.
We shall, perhaps, be reminded that opinions and intentions declared by an American Secretary of State ought not to be judged so literally as avowals of a corresponding kind given to the world under the hands of English Ministers. It may be that Mr. Seward means to say not exactly what his government is bent on doing or thinks itself capable of accomplishing, but what it knows that, theoretically it ought to aim at, and what, to the fullest extent of its intellectual power, it will try to approach.
The American Minister does not seem to be at all disturbed by having to promise that the Republic and its constitutional Union, ‘shall stand hereafter, as they are now, objects of human wonder and human affection.’ Had these words been written twelve months earlier, they would by this time have been pathetic. As it is, they narrowly escape being ridiculous. What are the Union and Republic now, when more than a third part of the community have not only repudiated the federal compact, but are in open war against the remainder?