(The Election of Lincoln and the Civil War.)

The election of Lincoln was a triumph for many political elements which, before his ascendency, had been groping blindly toward similar ends—some of these old-time Whigs, others new-time Abolitionists, some Free Soil men, others Union Democrats, still others Anti-Nebraska men; but all eager for the salvation of the Union and now marching under a common banner as Republicans. For the Union cause there was a great majority in the Electoral College; it marked a general uprising, for that cause, and was tempered only by Lincoln's failure to secure a popular majority. He was nearly a million short of a majority over all.

To the Southern States Lincoln's election came with the force of an appalling calamity. No longer did their leaders see any peaceable legislative way out of the country's wearisome intestinal strife. All the forces with which they had ever contended were now united against them, and victorious in their unity. They honestly believed Lincoln's election meant the overthrow, if not the final and complete ruin, of their chief institution, without which they could not longer prosper or perhaps exist. Southern leaders could not know how far-sighted was the vision of Lincoln, how passionate his longing for the preservation of the Union, how abhorrent to every impulse of his heart was war. A month before he was inaugurated six States had seceded and set up a government of their own.

When the South denied the power of the general government to coerce a State, it believed itself holding fast to a principle in the Constitution several times invoked by Northern States during the years immediately following its adoption. Moreover, they held that the same spirit of rebellion which South Carolina had shown thirty years before in attempting to nullify a tariff law of Congress had in quite recent years been shown by a dozen Northern States in attempting to nullify another act of Congress—the Fugitive Slave Law. It was in vain that Lincoln insisted that he had no intention to destroy slavery, or interfere with it as it existed, his prime purpose being to save the Union, and that so far as slavery was concerned, his only wish was to prevent its extension.

Since the Revolution, territory comprizing twenty new States, mostly Northern, had been added to the Union. These lands had been peopled by immigrants from Europe and from the older States of the East, to whom abhorrence of slavery was a common sentiment. In other ways this Western population constituted a compact body, devotedly loyal to the Federal Government. To the Federal Government, indeed, they maintained allegiance first, and to the State afterward. State pride scarcely existed among them until after years of achievement. The dominant note in their patriotism was nationality—"the Union, now and forever, one and inseparable."

Once the war began, industrial conditions operated powerfully to the disadvantage of the South. No enterprises in all that fair and fruitful domain could supply an army with guns, powder and balls, with clothing, surgical instruments and medicine. All these indispensable things the South ever since it was settled had imported from the North or from Europe. When the North, early in the war, blockaded Southern ports from the Chesapeake to the mouth of the Mississippi, supplies had to be brought in by running the blockade or entering the country by way of Texas, but this was a slow and costly process, and made supplies always uncertain. Many a soldier went to the war with his private fowling-piece, or with musket or sword that had survived in his family from earlier wars. After two years something had been done in the South to manufacture munitions of war, but Gettysburg, the turning-point of the war, was then not far off.

The South also lacked money. Her great planters were rich in land, cotton, tobacco and slaves, but, until their crops had been sold, they were always in debt for borrowed money, and now, with ports blockaded, their market for sales of crops was cut off. Before the war their exports of cotton had amounted to $202,000,000 annually; in 1862 they fell to $4,000,000. The resources of the South constantly diminished, not only in arms, ammunition and clothing, but in the supply of men who could fight. In population the seceding States did not number in 1860 much more than one-third as many men as the North, and of these much more than a quarter were slaves. In such circumstances the student may see how inevitable for the South was defeat. There were Southern leaders who saw this in 1860, among them Mr. Davis himself. Even Robert Toombs, when Sumter had been attacked, declared that the South would find the act "fatal to its cause."

The ability of the South to prolong the war for four consecutive years was due to an indomitable spirit of devotion which was probably more intensely and generally developed than in the Northern army. Her soldiers were also better marksmen and better horsemen, the conditions of their domestic life having taught them skill in these matters. One other great advantage lay in being on the defensive against an invader. This not only awakened a livelier sense of wrong and a keener sense of duty, but in the fields chosen for campaigns and battles gave them the advantage of being in a country that was better known to them than to the enemy.

Of all wars this conflict of 1861 to 1865 was perhaps the greatest known to history, not only as to duration and intensity, but as to the imperial sweep of territory over which the armies contended, the number of men put into the field, the number of stupendous battles fought, the magnitude of the losses in human life, and the colossal sums spent in its prosecution. More than a dozen battles, in the number of killed and wounded, rise to a place with Waterloo. The deaths due to military operations are believed to have exceeded 500,000, of whom three-fifths were Northern and two-fifths Southern men. At Gettysburg 43,000 were killed and wounded; at Chickamauga and Chattanooga the losses were appalling.

What the war cost in money and property can never be known. Such definite figures as exist pertain to actual expenditures on the Northern side. Not only were the current revenues of the North, which by taxation had been made large, all expended, but the North emerged from the war after further outlays funded in a national debt of $2,808,000,000—all reckoned in gold, altho the expenditures had been made in paper which at one time had so far depreciated that gold was quoted at $2.40. The wars of Napoleon, extending over four and a half times as long a period, are estimated to have added to the national debt of France only $487,000,000.

F. W. H.

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© 2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman