Monday, November 22, 2010

A wrong prediction

The news of the election of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th President of the United States traveled quickly in the age of the telegraph. No where was this greeted with more excitement than in Champaign County. Lincoln, who practiced law here in the years before the election, was practically a native son, and called several members of the community his friends.

Obviously, news of his election was not treated so favorably in other parts of the country. Already, in parts of the south, radical political leaders called for secession rather than submitting to the rule of a "Black Republican." The editors of the Central Illinois Gazette, possibly unaware of the powerful forces manipulating events in the south, predicted that cooler heads would prevail, and the nation would go on as before. They couldn't have been more wrong.

From the editorial page of the November 14, 1860 edition:


The attention of the whole country is now attracted to the insane movements of a portion of the ultra-secessionist party of the south. It would seem that, in very shame for their past tremendous boastings and cowardly small performances, they were now determined to do something, if only to raise a cloud of dust, under cover of which they may safely retire from the unpleasant position in which the adverse result of the campaign has placed them. No doubt many of these men are excited beyond all control, and are nearly, if not quite, ready to brave civil war and all its evils rather than submit to a Republican President. In a nation of reasonably clear-headed men, however, the out and out fools must necessarily be in a bad minority at any given time, and the world therefore regards with few emotions of dread the movements of these “out-and-outers.”

There are several reasons why the South or any considerable portion of it, will not secede at the present time. In the first place, there is no feature in the present position of the Republican or any other party which constitutes a good reason why the states in question should even be alarmed for their “peculiar institution.” They cannot possibly justify themselves in the eyes of the civilized world for such a step, and if any one truth has been made clearer than another by the events of this century it is that no great national movement can hope to reach a successful termination, unless it can secure the favorable public opinion of civilized men. Moreover, the thinking portion of the politicians of the south must soon awake to the following important features in the position in which they would be placed by the position in which they would be placed by the proposed movement: So far from being better able to protect the institution of slavery under a southern confederacy, they would lose at one blow all the powerful protection which the central government has thus far extended, and even the most distant plantations would be at the mercy of the John Browns of the extreme Abolition party of the north. Under the existing state of affairs the institution of slavery has been extended over territory after territory, and the additions to its domain have been almost constant, but no further territorial aggrandizement could be hoped for by a people only too painful conscious of their inability to retain in safety that which they already possessed. To those who look at the matter from a northern stand-point, nothing seems clearer than that dissolution of the Union would inevitably give the death blow to slavery in every one of the present slave states. These arguments become when we consider the impossibility of such a consummation and bear in mind the fact that the seceding states can only “get up for themselves,” if at all, after a long and exhausting war, which would only fail to leave them in debt because no one would be foolish enough to lend them anything. We do not care to dwell much upon the necessary accompanying horrors of such a warfare, because we consider it an impossible occurrence, and because such discussion by northern journals in misconstrued by our southern brethren.

In view of these things, taking into account the well known ability and acumen of southern statesmen, we cannot believe that they would precipitate themselves, their several sates, and their beloved “institutions,” upon certain ruin. There will of course be much bluster and a vast deal of speechifying in favor of the most valiant resolutions, but they will finally subside into the consoling meditation that President Lincoln, unsupported by a majority in either branch of the national legislation, could not harm the south if he would, and very likely would not if he could.

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