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Abraham Lincoln, Volume I by John T. Morse

It did not signify that they thought disunion unlawful


has been said by all writers that in the seven seceding States there was, in the four months following the election, a very large proportion of "Union men." The name only signified that these men did not think that the present inducements to disunion were sufficient to render it a wise measure. It did not signify that they thought disunion unlawful, unconstitutional, and treasonable. When, however, state conventions decided the question of advisability against their opinions, and they had to choose between allegiance to the State and allegiance to the Union, they immediately adhered to the State, and this none the less because they feared that she had taken an ill-advised step. That is to say, at the South a "Union man" _wished_ to preserve the Union, whereas at the North a "Union man" recognized a supreme _obligation_ to do so.

While the South, by political alchemy, was becoming solidified and homogeneous, a corresponding change was going on at the North. In that section the great numbers--of whom some would have re-made the Constitution, others would have agreed to peaceable separation, and still others would have made any concession to retain the integrity of the Union--now saw that these were indeed, as Jefferson Davis had said, "quack nostrums," and that the choice lay between permitting a secession accompanied with insulting menaces and some degree of actual violence, and maintaining the Union by coercion. In this dilemma great multitudes

of Northern Democrats, whose consciences had never been in the least disturbed by the existence of slavery in the country or even by efforts to extend it, became "Union men" in the Northern sense of the word, which made it about equivalent to coercionists. Their simple creed was the integrity and perpetuity of the nation.

Mr. Lincoln showed in his inaugural his accurate appreciation of the new situation. Owing all that he had become in the world to a few anti-slavery speeches, elevated to the presidency by votes which really meant little else than hostility to slavery, what was more natural than that he should at this moment revert to this great topic and make the old dispute the main part and real substance of his address? But this fatal error he avoided. With unerring judgment he dwelt little on that momentous issue which had only just been displaced, and took his stand fairly upon that still more momentous one which had so newly come up. He spoke for the Union; upon that basis a united North _ought_ to support him; upon that basis the more northern of the slave States might remain loyal. As matter of fact, Union had suddenly become the real issue, but it needed at the hands of the President to be publicly and explicitly announced as such; this recognition was essential; he gave it on this earliest opportunity, and the announcement was the first great service of the new Republican ruler. It seems now as though he could hardly have done otherwise, or have fallen into the error of allying himself with bygone or false issues. It may be admitted that he could not have passed this new one by; but the important matter was that of proportion and relation, and in this it was easy to blunder. In truth it was a crisis when blundering was so easy that nearly all the really able men of the North had been doing it badly for three or four months past, and not a few of them were going to continue it for two or three months to come. Therefore the sound conception of the inaugural deserves to be considered as an indication, one among many, of Lincoln's capacity for seeing with entire distinctness the great main fact, and for recognizing it as such. Other matters, which lay over and around such a fact, side issues, questions of detail, affairs of disguise or deception, never confused or misled him. He knew with unerring accuracy where the biggest fact lay, and he always anchored fast to it and stayed with it. For many years he had been anchored to anti-slavery; now, in the face of the nation, he shifted his anchorage to the Union; and each time he held securely.

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