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9: The Crucial Matter

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It is the custom of historians to measure the relative strength of North and South chiefly in terms of population. The North numbered 23,000,000 inhabitants; the South, about 9,000,000, of which the slave population amounted to 3,500,000. But these obvious statistics only partially indicate the real situation. Not what one has, but what one is capable of using is, of course, the true measure of strength. If, in 1861, either side could have struck swiftly and with all its force, the story of the war would have been different. The question of relative strength was in reality a question of munitions. Both powers were glaringly unprepared. Both had instant need of great supplies of arms and ammunition, and both turned to European manufacturers for aid. Those Americans who, in a later war, wished to make illegal the neutral trade in munitions forgot that the international right of a belligerent to buy arms from a neutral had prevented their own destruction in 1861. In the supreme American crisis, agents of both North and South hurried to Europe in quest of munitions. On the Northern side the work was done chiefly by the three ministers, Charles Francis Adams, at London; William L. Dayton, at Paris; and Henry S. Sanford, at Brussels; by an able special agent, Colonel George L. Schuyler; and by the famous banking-house of Baring Brothers, which one might almost have called the European department of the United States Treasury.

The eager solicitude of the War Department over the competition of the two groups of agents in Europe informs a number of dispatches that are, today, precious admonitions to the heedless descendants of that dreadful time. As late as October, 1861, the Acting Secretary of War wrote to Schuyler, one of whose shipments had been delayed: "The Department earnestly hopes to receive...the 12,000 Enfield rifles and the remainder of the 27,000, which you state you have purchased, by the earliest steamer following. Could you appreciate the circumstances by which we are surrounded, you would readily understand the urgent necessity there is for the immediate delivery of all the arms you are authorized to purchase. The Department expects to hear that you have been able to conclude the negotiations for the 48,000 rifles from the French government arsenals." That the Confederate Government acted even more promptly than the Union Government appears from a letter of Sanford to Seward in May: "I have vainly expected orders," he complains, "for the purchase of arms for the Government, and am tempted to order from Belgium all they can send over immediately.... Meanwhile the workshops are filling with orders from the South.... It distresses me to think that while we are in want of them, Southern money is taking them away to be used against us."

At London, Adams took it upon himself to contract for arms in advance of instructions. He wrote to Seward: "Aware of the degree to which I exceed my authority in taking such a step, nothing but a conviction of the need in which the country stands of such assistance and the joint opinion of all the diplomatic agents of the United Paris, has induced me to overcome my scruples." How real was the necessity of which this able diplomat was so early conscious, is demonstrated at every turn in the papers of the War Department. Witness this brief dispatch from Harrisburg: "All ready to leave but no arms. Governor not willing to let us leave State without them, as act of Assembly forbids. Can arms be sent here?" When this appeal was made, in December, 1861, arms were pouring into the country from Europe, and the crisis had passed. But if this appeal had been made earlier in the year, the inevitable answer may be guessed from a dispatch which the Ordnance Office sent, as late as September, to the authorities of West Virginia, refusing to supply them with arms because the supplies were exhausted, and adding, "Every possible exertion is being made to obtain additional supplies by contract, by manufacture, and by purchase, and as soon as they can be procured by any means, in any way, they will be supplied."

Curiously enough, not only the Confederacy but various States of the North were more expeditious in this all-important matter than Cameron and the War Department. Schuyler's first dispatch from London gives this singular information: "All private establishments in Birmingham and London are now working for the States of Ohio, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, except the London Armory, whose manufacture is supposed to go to the Rebels, but of this last fact I am not positively informed. I am making arrangements to secure these establishments for our Government, if desirable after the present State contracts expire. On the Continent, Messrs, Dayton and Sanford...have been making contracts and agreements of various kinds, of which you are by this time informed." Soon afterward, from Paris, he made a long report detailing the difficulties of his task, the limitations of the existing munitions plants in Europe, and promising among other things those "48,000 rifles from the French government arsenals" for which, in the letter already quoted, the War Department yearned. It was an enormous labor; and, strive as he would, Schuyler found American mail continuing to bring him such letters as this from the Assistant Secretary of War in October: "I notice with much regret that [in the latest consignment] there were no guns sent, as it was confidently expected that 20,000 would arrive by the [steamship] Fulton, and accordingly arrangements had been made to distribute them through the different States. Prompt and early shipments of guns are desirable. We hope to hear by next steamer that you have shipped from 80,000 to 100,000 stand."

The last word on the problem of munitions, which was so significant a factor in the larger problem, is the report of the United States Ordnance Office for the first year of the war. It shows that between April, 1861, and June, 1862, the Government purchased from American manufacturers somewhat over 30,000 rifles, and that from European makers it purchased 726,000.

From these illustrations it is therefore obvious that the true measure of the immediate strength of the American contestants in 1861 was the extent of their ability to supply themselves from Europe; and this, stated more concretely, became the question as to which was the better able to keep its ports open and receive the absolutely essential European aid. Lincoln showed his clear realization of the situation when he issued, immediately after the first call for volunteers, a proclamation blockading the Southern coasts. Whether the Northern people at the time appreciated the significance of this order is a question. Amid the wild and vain clamor of the multitude in 1861, with its conventional and old-fashioned notion of war as a thing of trumpets and glittering armies, the North seems wholly to have ignored its fleet; and yet in the beginning this resource was its only strength.

The fleet was small, to be sure, but its task was at first also small. There were few Southern ports which were doing a regular business with Europe, and to close these was not difficult. As other ports opened and the task of blockade grew, the Northern navy also increased. Within a few months, to the few observers who did not lose their heads, it was plain that the North had won the first great contest of the war. It had so hampered Southern trade that Lincoln's advantage in arming the North from Europe was ten to one. At the very time when detractors of Lincoln were hysterical over the removal of Fremont, when Grimes wrote to Fessenden that the country was going to the dogs as fast as imbecility could carry it, this great achievement had quietly taken place. An expedition sailing in August from Fortress Monroe seized the forts which commanded Hatteras Inlet off the coast of North Carolina. In November, Commander Dupont, U. S. N., seized Port Royal, one of the best harbors on the coast of South Carolina, and established there a naval base. Thenceforth, while the open Northern ports received European munitions without hindrance, it was a risky business getting munitions into the ports of the South. Only the boldest traders would attempt to "run the blockade," to evade the Federal patrol ships by night and run into a Southern port.

However, for one moment in the autumn of 1861, it seemed as if all the masterful work of the Northern navy would be undone by the Northern people themselves in backing up the rashness of Captain Charles Wilkes, of the war-ship San Jacinto. On the high seas he overhauled the British mail steamer, Trent. Aboard her were two Confederate diplomatic agents, James M. Mason and John Slidell, who had run the blockade from Charleston to Havana and were now on their way to England. Wilkes took off the two Confederates as prisoners of war. The crowd in the North went wild. "We do not believe," said the New York Times, "that the American heart ever thrilled with more sincere delight."

The intemperate joy of the crowd over the rashness of Wilkes was due in part to a feeling of bitterness against the British Government. In May, 1861, the Queen had issued a proclamation of neutrality, whose justification in international law was hotly debated at the time and was generally denied by Northerners. England was the great cotton market of the world. To the excited Northern mind, in 1861, there could be but one explanation of England's action: a partisan desire to serve the South, to break up the blockade, and to secure cotton. Whether such was the real purpose of the ministry then in power is now doubted; but at that time it was the beginning of a sharp contention between the two Governments. The Trent affair naturally increased the tension. So keen was the indignation of all classes of Englishmen that it seemed, for a moment, as if the next step would be war.

In America, the prompt demand for the release of Mason and Slidell was met, at first, in a spirit equally bellicose. Fortunately there were cool and clear heads that at once condemned Wilkes's action as a gross breach of international law. Prominent among these was Sumner. The American Government, however, admitted the justice of the British demand and the envoys were released.

Relations with the United States now became a burning issue in English politics. There were three distinct groups in Parliament. The representatives of the aristocracy, whether Liberals or Conservatives, in the main sympathized with the South. So did most of the large manufacturers whose business interests were affected by cotton. Great bitterness grew up among the Northerners against both these groups, partly because in the past many of their members had condemned slavery and had said scornful things about America for tolerating it. To these Northerners the Englishmen replied that Lincoln himself had declared the war was not over slavery; that it was an ordinary civil war not involving moral issues. Nevertheless, the third Parliamentary group insisted that the American war, no matter what the motives of the participants, would, in the event of a Northern victory, bring about the abolition of slavery, whereas, if the South won, the result would be the perpetuation of slavery. This third group, therefore, threw all its weight on the side of the North. In this group Lincoln recognized his allies, and their cause he identified with his own in his letter to English workmen which was quoted in the previous Chapter. Their leaders in Parliament were Richard Cobden, W. E. Forster, and John Bright. All these groups were represented in the Liberal party, which, for the moment, was in power.

In the Cabinet itself there was a "Northern" and a "Southern" faction. Then, too, there were some who sympathized with the North but who felt that its cause was hopeless—so little did they understand the relative strength of the two sections—and who felt that the war was a terrible proof of the uselessness of mere suffering. Gladstone, in later days, wished to be thought of as having been one of these, though at the time, a famous utterance of his was construed in the North as a declaration of hostility. To a great audience at Newcastle he said in October, 1862: "We may have our own opinions about slavery; we may be for or against the South; but there is no doubt that Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an army; they are making, it appears, a navy; and they have made, what is more than either—they have made a nation."

The Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, wished to intervene in the American war and bring about an amicable separation into two countries, and so, apparently, did the Foreign Secretary, Lord John Russell. Recently, the American minister had vainly protested against the sailing of a ship known as 290 which was being equipped at Liverpool presumably for the service of the Confederacy, and which became the famous Alabama. For two years it roved the ocean destroying Northern commerce, and not until it was sunk at last in a battle with the U. S. S. Kearsarge did all the maritime interests of the North breathe again freely. In time and as a result of arbitration, England paid for the ships sunk by the Alabama. But in 1862, the protests of the American minister fell on deaf ears.

It must be added that the sailing of the Alabama from Liverpool was due probably to the carelessness of British officials rather than to deliberate purpose. And yet the fact is clear that about the first of October, 1862, the British ministry was on the verge of intervening to secure recognition of the independence of the Southern confederacy. The chief motive pressing them forward was the distress in England caused by the lack of cotton which resulted from the American blockade. In 1860, the South had exported 615,000 bales; in 1861, only 10,127 bales. In 1862 half the spindles of Manchester were idle; the workmen were out of employment; the owners were without dividends. It was chiefly by these manufacturing capitalists that pressure was put upon the ministry, and it was in the manufacturing district that Gladstone, thinking the Government was likely to intervene, made his allusion to the South as a nation.

Meanwhile the Emperor of the French was considering a proposal to England and Russia to join with him in mediation between the American belligerents. On October 28, 1862, Napoleon III gave audience to the Confederate envoy at Paris, discussed the Southern cause in the most friendly manner, questioned him upon the Maryland campaign, plainly indicated his purpose to attempt intervention, and at parting cordially shook hands with him. Within a few days the Emperor made good his implied promise.

The month of November, 1862, is one of the turningpoints in American foreign relations. Both Russia and England rejected France's proposal. The motive usually assigned to the Emperor Alexander is his hatred of everything associated with slavery. His own most famous action was the liberation of the Russian serfs. The motives of the British ministry, however, appear more problematical.

Mr. Rhodes thinks he can discern evidence that Adams communicated indirectly to Palmerston the contents of a dispatch from Seward which indicated that the United States would accept war rather than mediation. Palmerston had kept his eyes upon the Maryland campaign, and Lee's withdrawal did not increase his confidence in the strength of the South. Lord Russell, two months previous, had flatly told the Confederate envoy at London that the South need not hope for recognition unless it could establish itself without aid, and that "the fluctuating events of the war, the alternation of defeat and victory," composed such a contradictory situation that "Her Majesty's Government are still determined to wait."

Perhaps the veiled American warning—assuming it was conveyed to Palmerston, which seems highly probable—was not the only diplomatic innuendo of the autumn of 1862 that has escaped the pages of history. Slidell at Paris, putting together the statements of the British Ambassador and those of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, found in them contradictions as to what was going on between the two governments in relation to America. He took a hand by attempting to inspire M. Drouyn de L'huys with distrust of England, telling him he "HAD SEEN...a letter from a leading member of the British which he very plainly insinuated that France was playing an unfair game," trying to use England as Napoleon's catspaw. Among the many motives that may well have animated the Palmerston Government in its waiting policy, a distrust of Napoleon deserves to be considered.

It is scarcely rash, however, to find the chief motive in home politics. The impetuous Gladstone at Newcastle lost his head and spoke too soon. The most serious effect of his premature utterance was the prompt reaction of the "Northern party" in the Cabinet and in the country. Whatever Palmerston's secret desires were, he was not prepared to take the high hand, and he therefore permitted other members of the Cabinet to state in public that Gladstone had been misunderstood. In an interview with Adams, Lord Russell, "whilst endeavoring to excuse Mr. Gladstone," assured him that "the policy of the Government was to adhere to a strict neutrality and leave the struggle to settle itself." In the last analysis, the Northern party in England was gaining ground. The news from America, possibly, and Gladstone's rashness, certainly, roused it to increased activity. Palmerston, whose tenure of power was none too secure, dared not risk a break that might carry the disaffected into the ranks of the Opposition.

From this time forward the North rapidly grew in favor in British public opinion, and its influence upon the Government speedily increased.

Says Lord Charnwood in his recent life of Lincoln: "The battle of Antietam was followed within five days by an event which made it impossible for any government of this country to take action unfriendly to the North." He refers of course to the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued on September 23, 1862. Lord Charnwood's remark may be too dramatic. But there can be no doubt that the Emancipation Proclamation was the turning-point in Lincoln's foreign policy; and because of it, his friends in England eventually forced the Government to play into his hands, and so frustrated Napoleon's scheme for intervention. Consequently Lincoln was able to maintain the blockade by means of which the South was strangled. Thus, at bottom, the crucial matter was Emancipation.

Lincoln's policy with regard to slavery passed through three distinct stages. As we have seen, he proposed, at first, to pledge the Government not to interfere with slavery in the States where it then existed. This was his maximum of compromise. He would not agree to permitting its extension into new territory. He maintained this position through 1861, when it was made an accusation against him by the Abolitionists and contributed to the ebb of his popularity. It also played a great part in the episode of Fremont. At a crucial moment in Fremont's career, when his hold upon popularity seemed precarious, he set at naught the policy of the President and issued an order (August 30, 1861), which confiscated all property and slaves of those who were in arms against the United States or actively aiding the enemy, and which created a "bureau of abolition." Whether Fremont was acting from conviction or "playing politics" may be left to his biographers. In a most tactful letter Lincoln asked him to modify the order so as to conform to the Confiscation Act of Congress; and when Fremont proved obdurate, Lincoln ordered him to do so. In the outcry against Lincoln when Fremont was at last removed, the Abolitionists rang the changes on this reversal of his policy of military abolition.

Another Federal General, Benjamin F. Butler, in the course of 1861, also raised the issue, though not in the bold fashion of Fremont. Runaway slaves came to his camp on the Virginia coast, and he refused to surrender them to the owners. He took the ground that, as they had probably been used in building Confederate fortifications, they might be considered contraband of war. He was sustained by Congress, which passed what is commonly called the First Confiscation Act providing that slaves used by Confederate armies in military labor should, if captured, be "forfeited"—which of course meant that they should be set free. But this did not settle what should be done with runaways whose masters, though residents of seceded States, were loyal to the Union. The War Department decided that they should be held until the end of the war, when probably there would be made "just compensation to loyal masters."

This first stage of Lincoln's policy rested upon the hope that the Union might be restored without prolonged war. He abandoned this hope about the end of the year. Thereupon, his policy entered its second stage. In the spring of 1862 he formulated a plan for gradual emancipation with compensation. The slaves of Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, and the District of Columbia were to be purchased at the rate of $400 each, thus involving a total expenditure of $173,000,000. Although Congress adopted the joint resolution recommended by the President, the "border States" would not accept the plan. But Congress, by virtue of its plenary power, freed the slaves by purchase in the District of Columbia, and prohibited slavery in all the territories of the United States.

During the second stage of his policy Lincoln again had to reverse the action of an unruly general. The Federal forces operating from their base at Port Royal had occupied a considerable portion of the Carolina coast. General Hunter issued an order freeing all the slaves in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. In countermanding the order, Lincoln made another futile appeal to the people of the border States to adopt some plan of compensated emancipation.

"I do not argue," he said; "I beseech you to make arguments for yourselves. You cannot, if you would be blind to the signs of the times. I beg of you a calm and enlarged consideration of them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partisan politics. This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproaches upon any. It acts not the Pharisee. The change it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not rending or wrecking anything. Will you not embrace it? So much good has not been done by one effort in all past time, as in the providence of God it is now your high privilege to do. May the vast future not have to lament that you neglected it. "

This persuasive attitude and reluctance to force the issue had greatly displeased the Abolitionists. Their most gifted orator, Wendell Phillips, reviled Lincoln with all the power of his literary genius, and with a fury that might be called malevolent. Meanwhile, a Second Confiscation Act proclaimed freedom for the slaves of all those who supported the Confederate Government. Horace Greeley now published in the "New York Tribune" an editorial entitled, "The Prayer of Twenty Millions." He denounced Lincoln's treatment of Fremont and Hunter and demanded radical action. Lincoln replied in a letter now famous. "I would save the Union," said he, "I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution.... If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union."

However, at the very time when he wrote this remarkable letter, he had in his own mind entered upon the third stage of his policy. He had even then discussed with his Cabinet an announcement favoring general emancipation. The time did not seem to them ripe. It was decided to wait until a Federal victory should save the announcement from appearing to be a cry of desperation. Antietam, which the North interpreted as a victory, gave Lincoln his opportunity.

The Emancipation Proclamation applied only to the States in arms against the Federal Government. Such States were given three months in which to return to the Union. Thereafter, if they did not return, their slaves would be regarded by that Government as free. No distinction was made between slaves owned by supporters of the Confederacy and those whose owners were in opposition to it. The Proclamation had no bearing on those slave States which had not seceded. Needless to add, no seceded State returned, and a second Proclamation making their slaves theoretically free was in due time issued on the first of January, 1863.

It must not be forgotten that this radical change of policy was made in September, 1862. We have already heard of the elections which took place soon after—those elections which mark perhaps the lowest ebb of Lincoln's popularity, when Seymour was elected Governor of New York, and the peace party gained over thirty seats in Congress. It is a question whether, as a purely domestic measure, the Emancipation Proclamation was not, for the time, an injury to the Lincoln Government. And yet it was the real turningpoint in the fortunes of the North. It was the central fact in the maintenance of the blockade.

In England at this time the cotton famine was at its height. Nearly a million people in the manufacturing districts were wholly dependent upon charity. This result of the blockade had been foreseen by the Confederate Government which was confident that the distress of England's working people would compel the English ministry to intervene and break the blockade. The employers in England whose loss was wholly financial, did as the Confederates hoped they would do. The workmen, however, took a different course. Schooled by a number of able debaters, they fell into line with that third group of political leaders who saw in the victory of the North, whatever its motives, the eventual extinction of slavery. To these people, the Emancipation Proclamation gave a definite programme. It was now, the leaders argued, no longer a question of eventual effect; the North had proclaimed a motive and that motive was the extinction of slavery. Great numbers of Englishmen of all classes who had hitherto held back from supporting Cobden and Bright now ranged themselves on their side. Addresses of praise and sympathy "began to pour into the Legation of the United States in a steady and ever swelling stream." An immense popular demonstration took place at Exeter Hall. Cobden, writing to Sumner, described the new situation in British politics, in a letter amounting to an assurance that the Government never again would attempt to resist the popular pressure in favor of the North.

On the last day of 1862 a meeting of workingmen at Manchester, where the cotton famine was causing untold misery, adopted one of those New Year greetings to Lincoln. Lincoln's reply expressed with his usual directness his own view of the sympathetic relation that had been established between the democratic classes of the two countries:

"I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the workingmen at Manchester, and in all Europe, are called to endure in this crisis. It has been often and studiously represented that the attempt to overthrow this Government, which was built upon the foundation of human rights, and to substitute for it one which should rest exclusively on the basis of human slavery, was likely to obtain the favor of Europe. Through the action of our disloyal citizens, the workingmen of Europe have been subjected to severe trials, for the purpose of forcing their sanction to that attempt. Under the circumstances, I cannot but regard your decisive utterances upon the question as an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country. It is indeed an energetic and reinspiring assurance of the inherent power of truth, and of the ultimate triumph of justice, humanity, and freedom. I do not doubt that the sentiments you have expressed will be sustained by your great nation; and, on the other hand, I have no hesitation in assuring you that they will excite admiration, esteem, and the most reciprocal feelings of friendship among the American people. I hail this interchange of sentiment, therefore, as an augury that whatever else may happen, whatever misfortune may befall your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now exists between the two nations will be, as it shall be my desire to make them, perpetual."

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