Karl Marx in the New-York Tribune 1861

The American Question in England

Source: the New-York Daily Tribune, October 11, 1861;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

London, Sept. 18, 1861

Mrs. Beecher Stowe’s letter to Lord Shaftesbury, whatever its intrinsic merit may be, has done a great deal of good, by forcing the anti-Northern organs of the London press to speak out and lay before the general public the ostensible reasons for their hostile tone against the North, and their ill-concealed sympathies with the South, which looks rather strange on the part of people affecting an utter horror of Slavery. Their first and main grievance is that the present American war is “not one for the abolition of Slavery,” and that, therefore, the high-minded Britisher, used to undertake wars of his own, and interest himself in other people’s wars only on the basis of “broad humanitarian principles,” cannot be expected to feel any sympathy with his Northern cousins.

“In the first place says The Economist, “the assumption that the quarrel between the North and South is a quarrel between Negro freedom on the one side and Negro Slavery on the other, is as impudent as it is untrue. “The North,” says The Saturday Review, “does not proclaim abolition, and never pretended to fight for Anti-Slavery. The North has not hoisted for its oriflamme the sacred symbol of justice to the Negro; its cri de guerre is not unconditional abolition.” “If,” says The Examiner, “we have been deceived about the real significance of the sublime movement, who but the Federalists themselves have to answer for the deception?”

Now, in the first instance, the premiss must be conceded. The war has not been undertaken with a view to put down Slavery, and the United States authorities themselves have taken the greatest pains to protest against any such idea. But then, it ought to be remembered that it was not the North, but the South, which undertook this war; the former acting only on the defense. If it be true that the North, after long hesitations, and an exhibition of forbearance unknown in the annals of European history, drew at last the sword, not for crushing Slavery, but for saving the Union, the South, on its part, inaugurated the war by loudly proclaiming “the peculiar institution” as the only and main end of the rebellion. It confessed to fight for the liberty of enslaving other people, a liberty which, despite the Northern protests, it asserted to be put in danger by the victory of the Republican party and the election of Mr. Lincoln to the Presidential chair. The Confederate Congress boasted that its new-fangled constitution, as distinguished from the Constitution of the Washingtons, Jeffersons, and Adams’s, had recognized for the first time Slavery as a thing good in itself, a bulwark of civilization, and a divine institution. If the North professed to fight but for the Union, the South gloried in rebellion for the supremacy of Slavery. If Anti-Slavery and idealistic England felt not attracted by the profession of the North, how came it to pass that it was not violently repulsed by the cynical confessions of the South?

The Saturday Review helps itself out of this ugly dilemma by disbelieving the declarations of the seceders themselves. It sees deeper than this, and discovers “that Slavery had very little to do with Secession;” the declarations of Jeff. Davis and company to the contrary being mere “conventionalisms” with “about as much meaning as the conventionalisms about violated altars and desecrated hearths, which always occur in such proclamations.”

The staple of argument on the part of the anti-Northern papers is very scanty, and throughout all of them we find almost the same sentences recurring, like the formulas of a mathematical series, at certain intervals, with very little art of variation or combination.

“Why,” exclaims The Economist, “it is only yesterday, when the Secession movement first gained serious head, on the first announcement of Mr. Lincoln’s election, that the Northerners offered to the South, if they would remain in the Union, every conceivable security for the performance and inviolability of the obnoxious institution — that they disavowed in the most solemn manner all intention of interfering with it — that their leaders proposed compromise after compromise in Congress, all based upon the concession that Slavery should not be meddled with.” “How happens it,” says The Examiner, “that the North was ready to compromise matters by the largest concessions to the South as to Slavery’, How was it that a certain geographical line was proposed in Congress within which Slavery was to be recognized as an essential institution? The Southern States were not content with this.”

What The Economist and The Examiner had to ask was not only why the Crittenden and other compromise measures were proposed in Congress, but why they were not passed? They affect to consider those compromise proposals as accepted by the North and rejected by the South, while, in point of fact, they were baffled by the Northern party, that had carried the Lincoln election. Proposals never matured into resolutions, but always remaining in the embryo state of pia desideria, the South had of course never any occasion either of rejecting or acquiescing in. We come nearer to the pith of the question by the following remark of The Examiner:

Mrs. Stowe says: ‘The Slave party, finding they could no longer use the Union for their purposes, resolved to destroy it.’ There is here an admission that up to that time the Slave party had used the Union for their purposes, and it would have been well if Mrs. Stowe could have distinctly shown where it was that the North began to make its stand against Slavery.”

One might suppose that The Examiner and the other oracles of public opinion in England had made themselves sufficiently familiar with the contemporaneous history to not need Mrs. Stowe’s information on such all-important points. The progressive abuse of the Union by the slave power, working through its alliance with the Northern Democratic party, is, so to say, the general formula of the United States history since the beginning of this century. The successive compromise measures mark the successive degrees of the encroachment by which the Union became more and more transformed into the slave of the slave-owner. Each of these compromises denotes a new encroachment of the South, a new concession of the North. At the same time none of the successive victories of the South was carried but after a hot contest with an antagonistic force in the North, appearing under different party names with different watchwords and under different colors. If the positive and final result of each single contest told in favor of the South, the attentive observer of history could not but see that every new advance of the slave power was a step forward to its ultimate defeat. Even at the times of the Missouri Compromise the contending forces were so evenly balanced that Jefferson, as we see from his memoirs, apprehended the Union to be in danger of splitting on that deadly antagonism. The encroachments of the slaveholding power reached their maximum point, when, by the Kansas-Nebraska bill, for the first time in the history of the United States, as Mr. Douglas himself confessed, every legal barrier to the diffusion of Slavery within the United States territories was broken down, when, afterward, a Northern candidate bought his Presidential nomination by pledging the Union to conquer or purchase in Cuba a new field of dominion for the slaveholder; when, later on, by the Dred Scott decision, diffusion of Slavery by the Federal power was proclaimed as the law of the American Constitution, and lastly, when the African slave-trade was de facto reopened on a larger scale than during the times of its legal existence. But, concurrently with this climax of Southern encroachments, carried by the connivance of the Northern Democratic party, there were unmistakable signs of Northern antagonistic agencies having gathered such strength as must soon turn the balance of power. The Kansas war, the formation of the Republican party, and the large vote cast for Mr. Frémont during the Presidential election of 1856, were so many palpable proofs that the North had accumulated sufficient energies to rectify the aberrations which United States history, under the slaveowners’ pressure, had undergone, for half a century, and to make it return to the true principles of its development. Apart from those political phenomena, there was one broad statistical and economical fact indicating that the abuse of the Federal Union by the slave interest had approached the point from which it would have to recede forcibly, or de bonne grace b That fact was the growth of the North-West, the immense strides its population had made from 1850 to 1860, and the new and reinvigorating influence it could not but bear on the destinies of the United States.

Now, was all this a secret chapter of history? Was “the admission” of Mrs. Beecher Stowe wanted to reveal to The Examiner and the other political illuminati of the London press the carefully hidden truth that “up to that time the Slave party had used the Union for their purposes?” Is it the fault of the American North that the English pressmen were taken quite unawares by the violent clash of the antagonistic forces, the friction of which was the moving power of its history for half a century? Is it the fault of the Americans that the English press mistake for the fanciful crotchet hatched in a single day what was in reality the matured result of long years of struggle? The very fact that the formation and the progress of the Republican party in America have hardly been noticed by the London press, speaks volumes as to the hollowness of its Anti-Slavery tirades. Take, for instance, the two antipodes of the London press, The London Times and Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper, the one the great organ of the respectable classes, and the other the only remaining organ of the working class. The former, not long before Mr. Buchanan’s career drew to an end, published an elaborate apology for his Administration and a defamatory libel against the Republican movement. Reynolds, on his part, was, during Mr. Buchanan’s stay at London, one of his minions, and since that time never missed an occasion to write him up and to write his adversaries down. How did it come to pass that the Republican party, whose platform was drawn up on the avowed antagonism to the encroachments of the Slaveocracy and the abuse of the Union by the slave interest, carried the day in the North? How, in the second instance, did it come to pass that the great bulk of the Northern Democratic party, flinging aside its old connexions with the leaders of Slaveocracy, setting at naught its traditions of half a century, sacrificing great commercial interests and greater political prejudices, rushed to the support of the present Republican Administration and offered it men and money with an unsparing hand?

Instead of answering these questions The Economist exclaims:

“Can we forget [...] that Abolitionists have habitually been as ferociously persecuted and maltreated in the North and West as in the South? Can it be denied that the testiness and half-heartedness, not to say insincerity, of the Government at Washington, have for years supplied the chief impediment which has thwarted our efforts for the effectual suppression of the slave trade on the coast of Africa; while a vast proportion of the clippers actually engaged in that trade have been built with Northern capital, owned by Northern merchants and manned by Northern seamen?”

This is, in fact, a masterly piece of logic. Anti-Slavery England cannot sympathize with the North breaking down the withering influence of slaveocracy, because she cannot forget that the North, while bound by that influence, supported the slave-trade, mobbed the Abolitionists, and had its Democratic institutions tainted by the slavedriver’s prejudices. She cannot sympathize with Mr. Lincoln’s Administration, because she had to find fault with Mr. Buchanan’s Administration. She must needs sullenly cavil at the present movement of the Northern resurrection, cheer up the Northern sympathizers with the slave-trade, branded in the Republican platform, and coquet with the Southern slaveocracy, setting up an empire of its own, because she cannot forget that the North of yesterday was not the North of to-day. The necessity of justifying its attitude by such pettifogging Old Bailey pleas proves more than anything else that the anti-Northern part of the English press is instigated by hidden motives, too mean and dastardly to be openly avowed.

As it is one of its pet maneuvers to taunt the present Republican Administration with the doings of its Pro-Slavery predecessors, so it tries hard to persuade the English people that The N. Y. Herald ought to be considered the only authentic expositor of Northern opinion. The London Times having given out the cue in this direction, the servum pecus of the other anti-Northern organs, great and small, persist in beating the same bush. So says The Economist:

In the height of the strife, New-York papers and New-York politicians were not wanting who exhorted the combatants, now that they had large armies in the field, to employ them, not against each other, but against Great Britain — to compromise the internal quarrel, the slave question included, and invade the British territory without notice and with overwhelming force.”

The Economist knows perfectly well that The N. V. Herald’s efforts, which were eagerly supported by The London Times, at embroiling the United States into a war with England, only intended securing the success of Secession and thwarting the movement of Northern regeneration.

Still there is one concession made by the anti-Northern English press. The Saturday snob tells us:

“What was at issue in Lincoln’s election, and what has precipitated the convulsion, was merely the limitation of the institution of Slavery to States where that institution already exists.”

And The Economist remarks:

“It is true enough that it was the aim of the Republican party which elected Mr. Lincoln to prevent Slavery from spreading into the unsettled Territories.... It may he true that the success of the North, if complete and unconditional, would enable them to confine Slavery within the fifteen States which have already adopted it, and might thus lead to its eventual extinction — though this is rather probable than certain.”

In 1859, on the occasion of John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry expedition, the very same Economist published a series of elaborate articles with a view to prove that, by dint of an economical law, American Slavery was doomed to gradual extinction from the moment it should be deprived of its power of expansion. That “economical law” was perfectly understood by the Slaveocracy.

“In 15 years more,” said Toombs “without a great increase in Slave territory, either the slaves must be permitted to flee from the whites, or the whites must flee from the slaves.”

The limitation of Slavery to its constitutional area, as proclaimed by the Republicans, was the distinct ground upon which the menace of Secession was first uttered in the House of Representatives on December 19, 1859. Mr. Singleton (Mississippi) having asked Mr. Curtis (Iowa), “if the Republican party would never let the South have another foot of slave territory while it remained in the Union,” and Mr. Curtis having responded in the affirmative, Mr. Singleton said this would dissolve the Union. His advice to Mississippi was the sooner it got out of the Union the better — “gentlemen should recollect that [ ... ] Jefferson Davis led our forces in Mexico, and [...] still he lives, perhaps to lead the Southern army.” Quite apart from the economical law which makes the diffusion of Slavery a vital condition for its maintenance within its constitutional areas, the leaders of the South had never deceived themselves as to its necessity for keeping up their political sway over the United States. John Calhoun, in the defense of his propositions to the Senate, stated distinctly on Feb. 19, 1847, “that the Senate was the only balance of power left to the South in the Government,” and that the creation of new Slave States had become necessary “for the retention of the equipoise of power in the Senate.” Moreover, the Oligarchy of the 300,000 slave-owners could not even maintain their sway at home save by constantly throwing out to their white plebeians the bait of prospective conquests within and without the frontiers of the United States. If, then, according to the oracles of the English press, the North had arrived at the fixed resolution of circumscribing Slavery within its present limits, and of thus extinguishing it in a constitutional way, was this not sufficient to enlist the sympathies of Anti-Slavery England?

But the English Puritans seem indeed not to be contented save by an explicit Abolitionist war.

“This,” says The Economist “therefore, not being a war for the emancipation of the Negro race, [...] on what other ground can we be fairly called upon to sympathize so warmly with the Federal cause?” “There was a time,” says The Examiner, “when our sympathies were with the North, thinking that it was really in earnest in making a stand against the encroachments of the Slave States,” and in adopting “emancipation as a measure of justice to the black race.”

However, in the very same numbers in which these papers tell us that they cannot sympathize with the North because its war is no Abolitionist war, we are informed that “the desperate expedient of proclaiming Negro emancipation and summoning the slaves to a general insurrection,” is a thing “the mere conception of which [...] is repulsive and dreadful,” and that “a compromise” would be “far preferable to success purchased at such a cost and stained by such a crime.

Thus the English eagerness for the Abolitionist war is all cant. The cloven foot peeps out in the following sentences:

“Lastly, [...]” says The Economist, “is the Morrill Tariff, a title to our gratitude and to our sympathy, or is the certainty that, in case of Northern triumph, that Tariff should be extended over the whole Republic, a reason why we ought to be clamorously anxious for their success?” “The North Americans,” says The Examiner, “are in earnest about nothing but a selfish protective Tariff. The Southern States were tired of being robbed of the fruits of their slave-labor by the protective tariff of the North.”

The Examiner and The Economist comment each other. The latter is honest enough to confess at last that with him and his followers sympathy is a mere question of tariff, while the former reduces the war between North and South to a tariff war, to a war between Protection and Free-Trade. The Examiner is perhaps not aware that even the South Carolina Nullifiers of 1832, as Gen. Jackson testifies, used Protection only as a pretext for secession; but even The Examiner ought to know that the present rebellion did not wait upon the passing of the Morrill tariff for breaking out. In point of fact, the Southerners could not have been tired of being robbed of the fruits of their slave labor by the Protective tariff of the North, considering that from 1846-1861 a Free-Trade tariff had obtained.

The Spectator characterizes in its last number the secret thought of some of the Anti-Northern organs in the following striking manner:

“What, then, do the Anti-Northern organs really profess to think desirable, under the justification of this plea of deferring to the inexorable logic of facts?” They argue that disunion is desirable, just because, as we have said, it is the only possible step to a conclusion of this “causeless and fratricidal strife;” and next, of course, only as an afterthought, and as an humble apology for Providence and “justification of the ways of God to man,” now that the inevitable necessity stands revealed — for further reasons discovered as beautiful adaptations to the moral exigencies of the country, when once the issue is discerned. It is discovered that it will be very much for the advantage of the States to be dissolved into rival groups. They will mutually check each other’s ambition; they will neutralize each other’s power, and if ever England should get into a dispute with one or more of them, more jealousy will bring the antagonistic groups to our aid. This will be, it is urged, a very wholesome state of things, for it will relieve us from anxiety and it will encourage political ‘competition,’ that great safeguard of honesty and purity, among the States themselves.

“Such is the case — very gravely urged — of the numerous class of Southern sympathizers now springing up among us. Translated into English — and we grieve that an English argument on such a subject should be of a nature that requires translating — it means that we deplore the present great scale of this “fratricidal” war, because it may concentrate in one fearful spasm a series of chronic petty wars and passions and jealousies among groups of rival States in times to come. The real truth is, and this very un-English feeling distinctly discerns this truth, though it cloaks it in decent phrases, that rival groups of American States could not live together in peace or harmony. The chronic condition would be one of malignant hostility rising out of the very causes which have produced the present contest. It is asserted that the different groups of States have different tariff interests. These different tariff interests would he the sources of constant petty wars if the States were once dissolved, and Slavery, the root of all the strife, would be the spring of innumerable animosities, discords and campaigns. No stable equilibrium could ever again be established among the rival States. And yet it is maintained that this long future of incessant strife is the providential solution of the great question now at issue — the only real reason why it is looked upon favorably being this, that whereas the present great-scale conflict may issue in a restored and stronger political unity, the alternative of infinitely multiplied small-scale quarrels will issue in a weak and divided continent, that England cannot fear.

“Now we do not deny that the Americans themselves sowed the seeds of this petty and contemptible state of feeling by the unfriendly and bullying attitude they have so often manifested to England, but we do say that the state of feeling on our part is petty and contemptible. We see that in a deferred issue there is no hope of a deep and enduring tranquillity for America, that it means a decline and fall of the American nation into quarrelsome clans and tribes, and yet we hold up our hands in horror at the present “fratricidal” strife because it holds out hopes of finality. We exhort them to look favorably on the indefinite future of small strifes, equally fratricidal and probably far more demoralizing, because the latter would draw out of our side the thorn of American rivalry.”