THE APPROACHING CRISIS IN AMERICA.
IT is time for Europe to glance once more at the course of
American politics. Great battles have their interest when they are fought so near home, new empires seem in these days not to grow silently like the oaks, but rather to deafen cool observers with the roar of their sudden up- rising, and it is not wonderful that, with half Europe at war and the remaining half openly doubting whether to take the field or not, American affairs should for a moment have been forgotten. Speeches in Congress are not very often pleasant reading, and the local politics of America are too unlike any of the conflicts raging in Europe, and too badly reported by the American newspapers, with their habit of snippety com- ment, to excite interest here except in a very dull time. The inattention, however, though natural, must not last too long, or it may be dispelled by a very unpleasantly dramatic sur- prise. No event in Europe, scarcely any combination of events, could be so important to England as the renewal of the American Civil War, and of that renewal there has arisen within the last few months a very serious chance. The majority of Englishmen, misled by the Times, which upon American affairs is persistently in the wrong, imagine, we believe, that the States are at last settling down, that a wise and moderate President is conciliating the South and soothing away the remains of vindictiveness in the North, that the complete reunion is only prevented by the fanaticism of a small party accidentally lifted to power, and that after the next elections, which will displace this party, the Union will resume its old course of pacific progress. That is the view now accepted by moderate and " practical " men, men who have weight in clubs, and who cannot believe that an acute and commercial people, fond of getting on and proud of their external position, will ever risk their prosperity, interrupt their progress, and sacrifice their position by war for a mere idea. It is a very pleasant view, particularly to persons who want to make investments without being dis- turbed by unexpected national outbreaks, but we greatly fear that in this case, as in 1859, and 1861, and the spring of this year, it is a very shallow one. Nations do sometimes rise to a temper in which the " sensible " view of affairs seems to them the dishonourable one, in which they are willing to postpone present ease to a future ideal, and unless we mis- read the signs of the times, to that temper• the American people is once more rising fast. As we pointed out twelve months ago, the faith in State rights survived the belief in State sovereignty, and the old conflict between the centralist and federal principles, which in this instance involves also the contest between the aristocratic and democratic constitution of society, once more menaces the Republic, if not with dismem- berment, at least with civil war. It is the deliberate belief of many of the most experienced men in America that if the elections to be held in November terminate in favour of the President, a resort to force cannot be avoided for many weeks, and that if they do not, the Presidential election of 1868 will be the signal for a renewal of operations in the field.
The cause of the crisis now approaching is not exactly identical with its occasion. The occasion is a quarrel between the President and the Congress, but the cause is the irre- pressible conflict between the rival principles upon which society has founded itself in the North and South. The North believes that unless labour is free throughout the Union, unless every man, whatever his colour or capacity, is equal before the law, the Union cannot in the long run be preserved intact. It will be rent asunder by difference alike of interests and civilization. During the war this belief, always latent with speculative persons and openly expressed by a small and aggressive party, became the fixed idea among a majority of the freeholders, and they believed that in abolishing slavery they had secured its permanent application. So also, we suspect, thought the South for the first few months, and thence their apparent acquiescence in the results of the war.. They had fought well, they had been beaten, and, " like honest gamblers," to use the expression of one of their own leaders, they "must pay their stakes." So strong indeed was their belief that the war had overturned their society, that for months the great planters considered whether it would not after all be advisable to give their negroes votes, and so retain their ascendancy in the State Legislatures over the poorer whites. Landlordism was not so pleasant an institution as slavery, but still it was a great deal- better for landlords than political equality or political subjugation. These ideas, however, were of short duration. The poorer
whites, who had fought to retain the privileges of caste, were not so moderate as the great planters, and the moment the direct pressure of force was relaxed they resumed their ancient position, their hostility at once to free labour and the Northern population. Laws were passed in every State intended to bind the negro to the soil, " Yankee" settlers were first sent to Coventry, then menaced, and then attacked, till they are calling in almost every State for military protection ; the negroes were threatened, and flogged, and shot till freedom seemed to them a mockery; and a determined demand was made for readmission into the central Legislature, a demand supported by all in the North who still sympathized either with slavery or State rights. The representatives of the North, startled to find their dream of universal free labour thus dispelled, and irritated almost beyond reasonable bounds at the hatred expressed by the South—" unfriendliness," as they call it, always hurts Ameri- cans to a degree our thicker-skinned countrymen scarcely understand—after many attempts at conciliation, and a close examination of all official reports on the state of Southern feeling, gradually settled down on a remarkable ultimatum. As the South would not have free labour or submit to the political results of the war, among which are the creation of a considerable debt, and heavy taxation to pay for it, the South should not be supreme. Either it should enfranchise the slaves politically as well as socially by giving them votes, or it should enter the Union without representa- tives calculated on the basis of the black population, that is, should lose one-third of its roll. The South would, we believe, have submitted to the second proposal, trusting to its demo- cratic allies and its own habit of leadership for ultimate supremacy, but that it found an unexpected ally. The Presi- dent went over to the South. Whether Mr. Johnson was actuated mainly by early prepossessions, as we should imagine, or moved by the courtship of men who had been his social superiors, as the Liberals assert, or had always intended treachery, as a few Abolitionists appear in their irritation to believe, is nothing to our present purpose. He went over to the South, declared that it had never been out of the Union, claimed readmission for its representatives on the basis of the old law with no condition other than the abolition of slavery, and handed the black population back to be dealt with by the white legislatures without restrictions except against open and unmistakable sale. The South, at first half stupefied with surprise, soon rallied as a "unit " to this new leader, the Democrats gave him a determined support, all the place- hunters, all the Irish, and most of the devotees of State rights followed suit, and it seemed for a moment possible that the results of the war would be at once reduced to nothing.
Fortunately for freedom, the Liberals, after a desperate attempt, pushed a great deal too far, in our opinion, to make a compromise with the President, resolved to remain firm. They passed the Bills necessary to protect the freedmen over the President's head, and by incessant speeches, pamphlets, and leaders strove to arouse in the mass of the people a sense of the terrible importance of the issue submitted to their decision, of the completeness with which the President was undoing the work of the war. Of course during the contest they got bitter and made speeches which polite society very properly pronounces "grossly wanting in taste," and of course also they grew, as popular assemblies when once excited always do grow, unreasonably suspicious. It is not likely, for instance, that the President connived at Fenianism in order to retain the command of an armed and democratic organization, or probable that he intended to let soldiers into the Capitol before the November elections had been taken. Those suspicions, widely as they are repeated, are merely signs that men's minds have " grown electric." On the other hand, the President, elated to find that a party in his favour had grown up in every State, and that the South looked to him as a Moses, grew bolder and bolder in his de- nunciations, till at last he permitted his Cabinet to threaten the use of force. It was intimated in so many words by Mr. Seward that " unless the South were admitted this Congress would never reassemble," and the sentence, rightly or wrongly, was interpreted to mean this : if the elections in November gave the Democrats an increase of numbers, the President
would admit the Southern representatives to the Capitol,
declare them and the Democrats the only true Congress, and protect them in case of resistance by military force. So con-
vinced was the Liberal party of the reality of this danger, that it first attempted to avoid an adjournment of Congress, and when this seemed impossible, the members being deter-
mined to meet their constituents, appointed a sort of vigilance committee, and proposed to transfer the contents of the Fede- ral arsenals to States which could be relied on not to join the South. They at the same time announced their intention, if a " Southern " Congress were called, to resist its meeting by force as a renewal of the rebellion, to march the militia of loyal States upon Washington to protect their own delibe- rations, and in the end, should the struggle terminate in their favour, to impeach and depose the President. We do not desire to exaggerate the danger of a struggle which we should deeply deplore, but we confess we believe it to be most serious. The President is now left alone for sin months, surrounded by Democrats wild with the bitterness. begotten of a two years' conflict and Southerners who have regained their energy, with power to change every official under his Government, and to make any military dispositions which to him may seem expedient. His treasury is full, his sup- porters are very numerous, and he may at the elections obtain- a verdict which will convince him, very erroneously, that half the nation is on his side. Great masses of the population are still unconvinced that civil war is among the possibilities, and the insane protectionism of the Republicans, or rather of the New England Republicans, alienates the West. Had Mr. Morrill's last Bill been carried the result might have been most disastrous to freedom, the West refusing in its wrath at excessive taxation to support the New England leaders ; but fortunately it was thrown out in the Senate, whose policy is not so completely swayed by the great associations of labour. The elections may therefore result in a vote which will convince Mr. Johnson that he has mistaken the national will, but the free-trade controversy has left • irritation, the people are still not fully awake, the patronage is in the President's hands, and the result is still so doubtful as to alarm men who know how envenomed the bitterness between the two parties has once again become. We trust, and in part believe, that they are mistaken, that the freeholders in- tend once more to assert themselves as the ultimate ruling class ; but if they are right, and if the President recognizes a Con- gress of Democrats and Southerners united, God help this. generation of Americans 1 for the struggle will be beside every hearth. The Liberals cannot submit, cannot see the result of a great war cancelled, and the Legislature remodelled by the act of the Executive alone, without an appeal which it will be • impossible to confine either to votes or words.