LITERATURE AND NATIONAL POLICY.
VOL. II.—NOVEMBER, 1862.—NO. V.
THE CAUSES OF THE REBELLION.
No other nation was ever convulsed by an internal struggle so tremendous as that which now rends our own unhappy country. No mere rebellion has ever before spread its calamitous effects so widely, beyond the scene of its immediate horrors. Just in proportion to the magnitude of the evils it has produced, is the enormity of the crime involved, on one side or the other; and good men may well feel solicitous to know where rests the burden of this awful responsibility.
The long train of preparatory events preceding the outbreak, and the extraordinary acts by which the conspirators signalized its commencement, point, with sufficient certainty, to the incendiaries who produced the vast conflagration, and who appear to be responsible for the ruin which has ensued. But it remains to inquire by what means the great mass of inflammable materials was accumulated and made ready to take fire at the touch; what justification there may be for the authors of the fatal act, or what palliation of the guilt which seems to rest upon them. The reputation of the American people, and of the free government which is their pride and glory, must suffer in the estimation of mankind, unless they can be fairly acquitted of all responsibility for the civil war, which not only desolates large portions of our own country, but seriously interferes with the prosperity of multitudinous classes, and the stability of large industrial interests, in other lands.
Neither in the physical nor in the moral world, can the effects of any phenomenon go beyond the nature and extent of its causes. Mighty convulsions, like that which now shakes this continent, must have their roots in far distant times, and must gather their nutriment of passion and violence from a wide field of sympathetic opinion. No influence of mere individuals, no sudden acts of government even, no temporary causes of any nature whatsoever, are adequate to produce results so widespread and astounding. The social forces which contend in such a conflict, must have been 'nursing their wrath' and gathering their strength for years, in order to exhibit the gigantic death-struggle, in which they are now engaged.
Gen. Jackson, after having crushed the incipient rebellion of 1832, wrote, in a private letter, recently published, that the next attempt to overthrow the Union would be instigated by the same party, but based upon the question of slavery.
That single-hearted patriot, in his boundless devotion to the Union, seemed to be gifted with almost preternatural foresight; nor did he exhibit greater sagacity in penetrating the motives and purposes of men, than in comprehending the nature and influence of great social causes, then in operation, and destined, as he clearly foresaw, to be wielded by wicked men as instruments of stupendous mischief to the country. His extraordinary prevision of the present attempt to overthrow the Union, signalizes the evident affiliation of this rebellion with that which he so wisely and energetically destroyed in embryo, by means of the celebrated proclamation and force bill.
It was, however, only in the real motive and ultimate object of the conspirators of 1832, that the attempt of South Carolina at that time was the lineal progenitor of the rebellion of the present day. The purpose was the same in both cases, but the means chosen at the two epochs were altogether different. In the first attempt, the purpose was, indeed, to break up the Union and to establish a separate confederacy; but this was to be done upon the ground of alleged inequality and oppression, as well as unconstitutionality, in the mode of levying duties upon foreign importations. The attempt, however, proved to be altogether premature. The question involved, being neither geographical nor sectional in character, was not then, if it could ever be, susceptible of being made the instrument of concentrating and intensifying hostile opinion against the federal power. Louisiana, with her great sugar interest, was a tariff State, and advocated protection as ardently as it was opposed in the greater part of the North-West, and in extensive districts of the North. She was not even invited to join the proposed confederacy. Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware were decided in their support of the protective policy, while Tennessee, Missouri, and North Carolina were divided on the question. Mr. Calhoun himself, the very prophet of nullification, could not obliterate the memory of his own former opinions, and it was difficult to induce the people to cooeperate in overthrowing the Federal Government, simply for adopting a policy which the very authors of this movement had themselves so recently thoroughly approved.
Thus, opinion was broken into fragments; and nowhere outside of South Carolina did it acquire sufficient unanimity and power to impart any great momentum to the revolutionary design. Besides, in the absence of clear and deep convictions, the question itself was of such a nature, that strong passions could not easily spring from it. The interests involved were not necessarily in conflict; their opposition was more apparent than real, so that an adjustment could readily be made without sacrifice of principle. In short, the subject of dispute did not contain within itself the elements of civil war, capable of development to that extreme, at the time and under the circumstances when the futile attempt at separation was made. Doubtless, the sinister exertions of restless and ambitious men, acting upon ignorant prejudices, might, under some circumstances, have engendered opinions, even upon the tariff question, sufficiently strong and violent for the production of civil commotion. Had the conditions been more favorable to the plot; had the conspirators of that day been as well prepared as those of 1861; had they been equally successful in sowing dissatisfaction and hatred in the minds of the Southern people; had they found in Gen. Jackson the weak and pliant instrument of treason which James Buchanan afterward became in the hands of Davis and his coadjutors, the present rebellion might have been anticipated, and the germ of secession wholly extirpated and destroyed, in the contest which would then have ensued. The Union would doubtless have been maintained, and, in the end, strengthened; the fatal element of discord would scarcely have survived to work and plot in secret for more than a quarter of a century. It is true, slavery would have remained; but in the absence of other causes, slavery would not necessarily have brought the country to the present crisis. Providence may have so ordered the events of that day as to leave the revolutionary element in existence, in order that it might eventually fasten upon slavery as the instrument of its treason, and thus bring this system, condemned alike by the lessons of experience and by the moral sense of mankind, to that complete eventual destruction, which seems to be inevitably approaching.
The idea of an independent Southern confederacy, to be constituted of a fragment of the Union, survived the contest of 1832, and has been cherished with zeal and enthusiasm, by a small party of malcontents, from that day to this. Either from honest conviction or from the syren seductions of ambition, or perhaps from that combination of both which so often misleads the judgment of the wisest and best of men, this party has pursued its end with unrivalled zeal and consummate tact, never for a single moment abating its efforts to convince the South of the advantages of separation. But all its ability and all its untiring labors failed to make any serious impression, until the great and powerful interest of slavery was enlisted in the cause, and used as the means of reaching the feelings, and arousing the prejudices of the Southern people. The theories of nullification and secession, while accepted by many leading minds in that section, never made any serious impression upon the mass of the people. Indeed, it may be said with truth, that the honest instincts of the people invariably rejected these pernicious and dangerous theories, whenever they were distinctly involved in the elections. Nevertheless, there was an undercurrent of opinion in favor of them: the minds of the people were familiarized with the doctrines, and thus made ready to embrace them, whenever they should be satisfied it was indispensable to their safety and liberty to avail themselves of their benefit.
These abstract principles, however industriously and successfully taught, would not of themselves have availed to urge the people on to the desperate contest into which they have been madly precipitated. The dogma of the right of secession was not left a mere barren idea: it was accompanied with constant teachings respecting the incompatibility of interests, and the inevitable conflict, between the North and the South; the superiority of slavery over every other form of labor; and the imminent danger of the overthrow of this benign institution by Northern fanaticism, and by the unfriendly influence of the commercial and financial policy of that section. Thus, the mischievous error of secession was roused to life and action by the exhibition of those unreal phantoms, so often conjured up to frighten the South—abolition, agrarianism, and protective oppression.
All these deceptive ideas were required to be infused into the minds of the people, in order to prepare the way for rebellious action. The right of secession was an indispensable condition, without which there could be no justification for the violent measures to be adopted. No considerable number of American citizens could be found ready to lay treasonable hands upon their government; but a great step would be taken if they could be convinced that the constitution provided for its own abrogation, and that the act of destruction could at any time be legally and regularly accomplished. The absolute humanity, justice, and morality of slavery, its excellence as a social institution, and its efficiency in maintaining order and insuring progress, must be fully established and universally admitted, in order to enlist the powerful motives of self-interest on the side of the projected revolution. And finally, it was necessary to show that the divine institution was in danger, that the free labor of the North was actively hostile to it and planning its ruin, and that this hostility was to be aided by all the selfish desires of the protectionists and the dangerous violence of the agrarian 'mudsills' of the other section. It was not of the least importance that these statements or any of them should be true. Let them be thoroughly believed by the people, and that conviction would answer all the purposes of the conspirators. Accordingly, for more than a quarter of a century, these heresies and falsehoods were most industriously instilled into the minds of the Southern people, of whom the great mass are unfortunately, and, from their peculiar condition, necessarily, kept in that state of ignorance which would favor the reception of such incredible and monstrous fallacies.
The argument as to the right of secession has been exhausted; and if it had not been, it does not come within the scope and design of this paper to discuss the question. Enemies of the United States, foreign and domestic, will continue to believe, or at least to profess to believe and try to convince themselves, that the Constitution of 1787, which superseded the Confederation, contained all the defects of the latter which it was specially designed to remedy,—that the league of the preceding period was prolonged in the succeeding organization, only to be the fatal object of future discontent and ambition. Certainly this doctrine is the basis of the rebellion, and without it no successful movement could have been made to secure cooperation from any of the States. Nevertheless, it cannot be considered one of the impelling causes which moved the rebellious States to action, for it is not of itself an active principle. It rather served to smooth the way, by removing obstacles which opposed the operation of real motives. Veneration for the work of the fathers of the republic, respect for the Constitution and love of the Union, as things of infinite value, worthy to be cherished and defended, stood in the way of the conspiracy which compassed the destruction of the government. It was necessary to remove this obstacle, and to eradicate these patriotic sentiments, which had taken strong hold of the minds and hearts of the people of both sections. For more than two generations the Union had been held sacred, beyond all other earthly blessings. It was an object of the first magnitude to unsettle this long-cherished sentiment.
The conspirators were altogether too shrewd and full of tact to approach their object directly. They adopted the artifice of arousing and studiously cultivating another sentiment of equal strength, which should spring up side by side with their love of the Union, flourish for a time in friendly cooperation with it, but ultimately supplant and entirely supersede it. This was the plausible and attractive sentiment of State pride, concealing in itself the idea of perfect sovereignty, with the right of nullification and secession. With consummate ability, with untiring industry and perseverance, and without a moment's cessation for more than a quarter of a century, this fruitful but pernicious seed of disorganization was sown broadcast among the Southern people. So long as there was no occasion to put the theory into practice, there seemed to be no ground for alarm. The question was one rather of curious subtlety than of practical importance. Meanwhile, the minds of men became familiar with the thought; they entertained it without aversion; the germs of ultimate discord and dissolution silently took root, and slowly grew up in the understandings of men. Not that the principle was adopted; it was rather tolerated than accepted. But this was the very thing intended by the wily conspirators. They expected nothing better; for they knew well that an accident or a bold precipitation of events would cause the popular mind to seize this principle and use it, as the only justification for revolutionary violence. Thus this doctrine, which is the embodiment of anarchy, was carefully prepared for the occasion, and artfully placed within easy mental reach of those who would be called upon to wield it.
Pari passu with the dissemination and growth of this dangerous opinion, the political school which cherished it endeavored to promote the object steadily held in view, by restricting and embarrassing the action of the Federal Government in every possible way. Notwithstanding the distrust and aversion of the Jackson party against them, continued long after the events of 1832, they succeeded in forming, first a coalition, and finally a thorough union with the great popular organization—the democratic party. Holding the balance of power between that party and their opponents, they dictated terms to the successive democratic conventions, and, in effect, controlled their nominations and their policy. They imposed upon that party the formidable dogma of 'a strict construction of the Constitution,' and under that plausible pretext, denied to the Government the exercise of every useful power necessary to make it strong and efficient within the limits of its legitimate functions. Their evident object, though cautiously and successfully concealed, was to weaken the Federal Government, and build up the power of the separate States, so that the former, shorn of its constitutional vigor, and crippled in its proper field of action, might, at the critical moment, fall an easy prey to their iniquitous designs. The navigation of the great Mississippi river, the imperial highway of the continent, could not be improved, because every impediment taken away, and every facility given to commerce on its bosom, were so much strength added to the bonds of the Union. The harbors of the great lakes and of the Atlantic coast could not be rendered secure by the agency of the Federal Government, because every beneficent act of this nature fixed it more firmly in the affections of the people, and gave it additional influence at home and abroad. The great Pacific railroad—a measure of infinite importance to the unity of the nation, to the development of the country, and to the general prosperity, as well as to the public defence—a work so grand in its proportions, and so universal in its benefits, that only the power of a great nation was equal to its accomplishment or capable and worthy of its proper control—this great and indispensable measure was defeated from year to year, so long as the conspirators remained in Congress to oppose it, and was only passed in the end, after they had launched the rebellion, and made their open attack against the Government, which they had so long sought to embarrass and weaken, in view of this very contingency.
While yielding these principles in theory, the democratic party did not always adhere to them in practice. The instinct of patriotism was often stronger than the obligations of party necessity and party policy. Moreover, the text of these doctrines in the democratic creed was frequently a subject of grave dispute in the party, and unanimity never prevailed in regard to it. Yet the subtle poison infused into the body of the organization, extended its baleful influence to all questions, and too often paralyzed the arm of the Government in every field of its appropriate action.
Never was presented in history a better illustration of the effect of false and mischievous ideas. It would be unjust, because it would be untrue, to suspect the democratic party of any clear knowledge of the ends to which these principles were intended to lead, or of any participation in the treasonable purpose. Many members of that party saw the danger in time, and abandoned the organization before it was caught in the meshes of the great conspiracy. Some, however, even in the loyal States, clung to Breckinridge and the fatal abstractions of the party creed, until these reached their final and legitimate culmination, in the ghastly paralysis of the most indispensable functions of the Government—the ruinous abnegation of all power of self-defence—the treacherous attempt at national suicide only failing for want of courage to perpetrate the supreme act, which was exhibited by the administration of James Buchanan, in its last hours, when it proclaimed the doctrine of secession to be unfounded in constitutional right, and yet denied the power of the Government to prevent its own destruction. The threats of an imperious band of traitors, operating upon the fears of a weak old man, who was already implicated in the treason, drove him to the verge of the abyss into which he was willing to plunge his country, but from which, at the last moment, he drew back, dismayed at the thought of sacrificing himself.
The doctrine of secession, long and laboriously taught, and the cognate principles calculated to diminish the power of the Federal Government and magnify that of the States, thus served to smooth the way, to lay the track, upon which the engine of rebellion was to be started. But there was still wanting the motive power which should impel the machine and give it energy and momentum. Something tangible was required—something palpable to the masses—on the basis of which violent antagonisms and hatreds could be engendered, and fearful dangers could be pictured to the popular imagination.
The protective system, loudly denounced as unequal and oppressive, as well as unconstitutional, had proved wholly insufficient to arouse rebellion in 1832. It would have proved equally so in 1861: but then the ultra free trade tariff of 1856 was still in existence; and it continued in force, until, to increase dissatisfaction, and invite the very system which they pretended to oppose and deplore, the conspirators in Congress, having power to defeat the 'Morrill Tariff,' deliberately stepped aside, and suffered it to become a law. But this was merely a piece of preliminary strategy intended to give them some advantage in the great battle which was eventually to be fought on other fields. It might throw some additional weight into their scale; it might give them some plausible ground for hypocritical complaint; and might even, to some extent, serve to hide the real ground of their movement; yet, of itself, it could never be decisive of anything. It could neither justify revolution in point of morals, nor could it blind the people of the South to the terrible calamities which the experiment of secession was destined to bring upon them.
Slavery alone, with the vast material prosperity apparently created by it, with the debatable and exciting questions, moral, political, and social, which arise out of it, and with the palpable dangers, which, in spite of every effort to deny it, plainly brood over the system—slavery alone had the power to produce the civil war, and to shake the continent to its foundations. In the present crisis of the struggle, it would be a waste of time and of thought to attempt to trace back to its origin the long current of excitement on the slavery question, beginning in 1834, and swelling in magnitude until the present day; or to seek to fix the responsibility for the various events which marked its progress, from the earliest agitation down to the great rebellion, which is evidently the consummation and the end of it all. The only lesson important to be learned, and that which is the sum of all these great events, plainly taught by the history of this generation, and destined to characterize it in all future time, is, that slavery had in itself the germs of this profound agitation, and that, for thirty years, it stirred the moral and political elements of this nation as no other cause had power to do. It is of little consequence, for the purpose in view, to inquire what antagonisms struggled with slavery in this immense contest, covering so great an area in space, and so long a period of time. All ideas and all interests were involved. Moral, social, political, and economical considerations clashed and antagonized in the gigantic conflict.
Is slavery right or wrong? Has it the sanction of enlightened conscience, or of the divine law as revealed in the Old and New Testaments? The last words of this moral contest have scarcely yet ceased to reverberate in our ears, even while the sound of cannon tells of other arguments and another arbitrament, which must soon cut short all the jargon of the logicians. But one of the most remarkable features of the whole case, has been the indignation with which the slave interest, from beginning to end, has resisted the discussion of these moral questions. As if such inquiries could, by any possibility, be prevented! As if a system, good and right in itself, defensible in the light of sound reason, could suffer by the fullest examination which could be made in private or in public, or by the profoundest agitation which could arise from the use of mere moral means! The discussions, the agitations, and all the fierce passions which attended them, were unavoidable. Human nature must be changed and wholly revolutionized before such agitations can be suppressed. They are the means appointed by the Creator for the progress of humanity. The seeds of them are planted in the heart of man, and, in the sunshine and air of freedom, they must germinate and grow, and eventually produce such fruit as the eternal laws of God have made necessary from the beginning.
The social question shaped itself amidst the turbulent elements, and came out clear and well defined, in the perfect contrast and antagonism of the two sectional systems. Free labor, educated, skilful, prosperous, self-poised, and independent, grew into great strength, and accumulated untold wealth, in all the States in which slavery had been supplanted. Unexampled and prodigious inventive energy had multiplied the physical power of men by millions, and these wonderful creations of wealth and power seemed destined to have no bounds in the favored region in which this system of free labor prevailed. Immigration, attracted by this boundless prosperity, flowed in with a steady stream, and an overflowing population was fast spreading the freedom and prosperity of the Northern States to all the uncultivated regions of the Union.
On the other hand, by a sort of social repulsion—a sort of polarity which intensifies opposition and repugnance—the theory of slavery was carried to an extreme never before known in the history of mankind. Capital claimed to own labor, as the best relation in which the two could be placed toward each other. The masses of men, compelled to spend their lives in physical toil, were held to be properly kept in ignorance, under the guidance of intelligent masters. The skilful control of the master, when applied to slaves, was hold to be superior in its results to the self-regulating energies of educated men, laboring for their own benefit, and impelled by the powerful motives of self-interest and independent enterprise. The safety of society demanded the subordination of the laboring class; and especially in free governments, where the representative system prevails, was it necessary that working men should be held in subjection. Slavery, therefore, was not only justifiable; it was the only possible condition on which free society could be organized, and liberal institutions maintained. This was 'the corner stone' of the new confederacy. The opposite system in the free States, at the first touch of internal trouble and civil war, would prove the truth of the new theory by bread riots and agrarian overthrow of property and of all other institutions held sacred in the true conditions of social order.
Such was the monstrous inversion of social phenomena which the Southern mind accepted at the hands of their leading men, and conceived to be possible in this advanced age of the world. Seizing upon a system compatible only with the earliest steps in the progress of man, and suitable only to the moral sentiments and unenlightened ideas of the most backward races of the world, they undertook to naturalize and establish it—nay, to perpetuate it, and to build up society on its basis—in the nineteenth century, and among the people of one of the freest and most enlightened nations! Evidently, this was a monstrous perversion of intellect—a blindness and madness scarcely finding a parallel in history. It was expected, too, that this anomalous social proceeding—this backward march of civilization on this continent—would excite no animadversion and arouse no antagonism in the opposite section. It involved the reopening of the slave trade, and it was expected that foreign nations would abate their opposition, lower their flags, and suffer the new empire, founded on 'the corner stone of slavery,' to march forward in triumph and achieve its splendid destiny.
These moral and social ideas might have had greater scope to work out their natural results, had not the political connections between the North and the South implicated the two sections, alike, in the consequences of any error or folly on the part of either. Taxation and representation, and the surrender of fugitive slaves, all provided for in the Constitution, were the points in which the opposite polities came into contact in the ordinary workings of the Federal Government. Perpetual conflicts necessarily arose. But it was chiefly on the question of territorial extension, and in the formation of new States, that the most inveterate of all the contests were engendered. The constitutional provisions applicable to these questions are not without some obscurity, and this afforded a plausible opportunity for all the impracticable subtleties arising out of the doctrine of strict construction. From the time of the admission of Missouri, in 1820, down to the recent controversy about Kansas, the territorial question was unsettled, and never failed to be the cause of terrible agitation.
But the march of events soon superseded the question; and even while the contest was fiercest and most bitter, the silent operation of general causes was sweeping away the whole ground of dispute. The growth of population in the Northern States was so unexampled, and so far exceeded that of the Southern States, that there could be no actual rivalry in the settlement of the territories. The latter already had more territory than they could possibly occupy and people. While the Northern population, swollen by European emigration, was taking possession of the new territories and filling them with industry and prosperity, slavery was repelling white emigration, and the South, from sheer want of men, was wholly unable to meet the competition. Yet, with most unreasonable clamors, intended only to arouse the passions of the ignorant, Southern statesmen insisted on establishing the law of slavery where they could not plant the institution itself. They finally demanded that slavery should be recognized everywhere within the national domain; and that the Federal power should be pledged for its protection, even against the votes of the majority of the people. This was nothing less than an attempt to check the growth of the country, by the exclusion of free States, when it was impossible to increase it by the addition of any others.
Upon the failure of this monstrous demand, civil war was to be inaugurated! A power which had been relatively dwindling and diminishing from the beginning—which, in the very nature of things, could not maintain its equality in numbers and in constitutional weight—this minority demanded the control of the Government, in its growth, and in all its policy, and, in the event of refusal, threatened to rend and destroy it. Such pretensions could not have been made with sincerity. They were but the sinister means of exciting sectional enmities, and preparing for the final measures of the great conspiracy. Having discarded the rational and humane views of their own fathers—Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and others—it was but the natural sequel that they should signalize their degeneracy by aiming to overthrow the work in which those sages had embodied their generous ideas—the Constitution of the United States and the whole fabric of government resting upon it.
In what manner these mischievous absurdities became acceptable to the Southern people—by what psychological miracle so great a transformation was accomplished in so short a time—is only to be explained by examining some of the delusions which blinded the authors of the rebellion, and enabled them to mislead the masses who confided too implicitly in the leadership of their masters.
Weak as were the Southern people in point of numbers and political power, compared with those of the opposite section, the haughty slaveholders easily persuaded themselves and their dependents that they could successfully cope in arms with the Northern adversary, whom they affected to despise for his cowardly and mercenary disposition. Wealth, education, and ample leisure gave them the best opportunity for political studies and public employments. Long experience imparted skill in all the arts of government, and enabled them, by superior ability, to control the successive administrations at Washington. Proud and confident, they indulged the belief that their great political prestige would continue to serve them among their late party associates in the North, and that the counsels of the adversary would be distracted, and his power weakened, by the fatal effects of dissension. All warlike sentiment and capacity was believed to be extinct among the traders and manufacturers, 'the shopkeepers and pedlars,' of the Middle and Eastern States. Hence a vigorous attack in arms against the Federal Government was expected to be met with no energetic and effective resistance. A peaceable dissolution of the Union, and the impossibility of war—at least of any serious and prolonged hostilities—was a cardinal point in the teachings of the secessionists. The fraudulent as well as violent measures by which they sought to disarm the Federal Government and to forestall its action, were only adopted 'to make assurance doubly sure.'
Beyond all doubt, the system of slavery encourages those habits and passions which make the soldier, and which instigate and maintain wars. The military spirit and that of slavery are congenial; for both belong to an early stage in the progress of civilization, when each is necessary to the support and continuance of the other. It was therefore to be expected that the Southern people would be better prepared for the organization, and also for the manoeuvring of armies. But the mistake and the fatal delusion cherished by the conspirators, was the belief that the Northern people were without manly spirit, and incapable of being aroused by sentiments of patriotism. It was an equal miscalculation to anticipate that the fabric of Northern free society would fall to pieces, and be thrown into irremediable disorder, at the first appearance of civil commotion. This false idea was the offspring of the slave system, which boasted of the solidity of its own organization and the impossibility of its overthrow. From their standpoint, amid the darkness of a social organization, in which one half the population is not more than semi-civilized, the slaveholders could not easily obtain any other view. Long accustomed to wield irresponsible power as masters, enjoying wealth and independence from the unrewarded labor of the slave, but liberal and humane, condescending and indulgent, so long as the untutored black was quiet and obedient, the planter very naturally imagined his system to be the perfection of social order. In the atmosphere of luxurious ease which surrounded him, were the elements of a mental mirage which distorted everything in his deceptive vision. He weighed the two systems, and found his own immeasurably more powerful than its antagonist. Fatal mistake! fatal but inevitable, in his condition, in the midst of the blinding refractions of the medium which enveloped him.
Prosperity had made him giddy. Cotton was not merely King—it was God. Moral considerations were nothing. The sentiment of right, he argued, would have no influence over starving operatives; and England and France, as well as the Eastern States of the Union, would stand aghast and yield to the masterstroke which should deprive them of the material of their labor. Millions were dependent on it in all the great centres of civilization, and the ramifications of its power extended into all ranks of society and all departments of industry and commerce. It was only necessary to wave this imperial sceptre over the nations, and all of them would fall prostrate and acknowledge the supremacy of the power which wielded it. Nothing could be more plausible than this delusion. Satan himself, when about to wage war in heaven, could not have invented one better calculated to marshal his hosts and give promise of success in rebellion against the authority of the Most High. But alas! the supreme error of this anticipation lay in omitting from the calculation all power of principle. The right still has authority over the minds of men and in the counsels of nations. Factories may cease their din; men and women may be thrown out of employment; the marts of commerce may be silent and deserted; but truth and justice still command some respect among men, and God yet remains the object of their adoration.
Drunk with power and dazzled with prosperity, monopolizing cotton, and raising it to the influence of a veritable fetich, the authors of the rebellion did not admit a doubt of the success of their attack on the Federal Government. They dreamed of perpetuating slavery, though all history shows the decline of the system as industry, commerce, and knowledge advance. The slaveholders proposed nothing less than to reverse the currents of humanity, and to make barbarism flourish in the bosom of civilization. They even thought of extending the system, by opening the slave trade and enlarging the boundaries of their projected empire, Mexico and Central America, Cuba and St. Domingo, with the whole West Indian group of islands, awaited the consolidation of their power, and stood ready to swell the glory of their triumph.
But these enticing visions quickly faded away from their sight. At an early day after the inauguration of their government, they were compelled to disavow the design of reopening the slave trade, and in no event is it probable their recognition will be yielded by foreign governments, except on the basis of ultimate emancipation. How such a proposition will be received by their deluded followers, remains yet to be ascertained by an experiment which the authors of the rebellion will be slow to try among their people. One of the most effective appeals made to the non-slaveholders of the South, in order to start the revolution, was to their fears and prejudices against the threatened equality and competition of the emancipated negro. The immense influence of this appeal can scarcely be estimated by those not intimately acquainted with the social condition of the great mass of the Southern people. Among them, the distinction of color is maintained with the utmost rigor, and the barrier between the two races, social and political, is held to be impassable and eternal. The smallest taint of African blood in the veins of any man is esteemed a degradation from which he can never recover. Toward the negro, as an inferior, the white man is often affable and kind, cruelty being the exception, universally condemned and often punished; but toward the black man as an equal, an implacable hostility is instantly arrayed. This intense and unconquerable prejudice, it is well known, is not confined wholly to the South; but it prevails there without dissent, and is, in fact, one of the fundamental principles of social organization.
When, therefore, the leaders of the rebellion succeeded in persuading the Southern masses that the success of the Republican party would eventually liberate the slave and place him on an equality with the whites, an irresistible impulse was given to their cause. To the extent that this charge was credited was the rebellion consolidated and embittered. Had it been universally believed, there would have been few dissenting voices throughout the seceding States. All would have rushed headlong into the rebellion. And even now, every measure adopted on our part, in the field or in Congress, which can be distorted as looking to a similar end, must prove to be a strong stimulus in sustaining and invigorating the enemy. Happily, while the system of slavery naturally discourages education, and leaves the mass of whites comparatively uninformed, and peculiarly subject to be deceived and misled, there are yet many highly intelligent men among the non-slaveholders, and some liberal and unprejudiced ones among the slaveholders themselves. These serve to break the force of the appeals made to the ignorant, and they have had a powerful influence in maintaining the love of the Union and the true spirit of our institutions, among considerable numbers, in all parts of the South.
From the foregoing views, it is plain, that only in a certain sense can slavery be pronounced the cause of the rebellion. It was not the first and original motive; neither is it the sole end of the conspirators. But in another sense, it may justly be considered the cause of the war; for without it, the war could never have taken place.
There was no actual necessity to destroy the Union for the protection of slavery and for its continued existence. Construed in any rational sense likely to be adopted, the Constitution afforded ample security—far more, indeed, than could be found under a separate confederacy. This was evident to the leaders of the rebellion, though it was their policy to conceal the truth from the people, by the fierce passions artfully aroused in the beginning. Slavery could not have been perpetuated, because its permanence is against the decrees of nature. But it could have lived out a peaceful and perhaps a prosperous existence, gradually disappearing without convulsion or bloodshed. Discussion and agitation could not have been prevented, nor could the inevitable end have been averted. Yet the whole movement could well have been controlled and directed, by the adoption of wise and well-considered measures, not inconsistent with the natural laws governing the case, whose final operation it was wholly impossible to prevent.
But this system of gradual amelioration, and peaceful development of ends that must come, did not satisfy the ambition of the conspirators. They saw their last opportunity for a successful rebellion, and they determined not to let it pass unimproved. The vast power of the slave interest; the passions easily to be excited by it; the encouraging delusions clustering around it; and the fearful apprehensions growing out of its darker aspects, all contributed to make it the very instrument for accomplishing the long-cherished design.
Slavery has been the chief means of bringing about the rebellion. It is the lever, resting upon the fulcrum of State sovereignty, by which the conspirators have been able, temporarily, to force one section of the Union from its legitimate connections. Thus used for this unhallowed purpose, and become tainted with treason and crimsoned with the blood of slaughtered citizens, slavery necessarily subjects itself to all the fearful contingencies and responsibilities of the rebellion. Whether the confederate cause shall succeed or fail, the slave institution, thus fatally involved in it, cannot long survive. In either event, its doom is fixed. Like one of those reptiles, which, in the supreme act of hostility, extinguish their own lives inflicting a mortal wound upon their victims, slavery, roused to the final paroxysm of its hate and rage, injects all its venom into the veins of the Union, exhausts itself in the effort, and inevitably dies.
The time has come when we must have an entirely new lot of superlatives—intensifiers of meaning—verifiers of earnestness—asserters of exactness, etc., etc. The old ones are as dead as herrings; killed off, too, as herrings are, by being taken from their natural element. What between passionate men and affected women, all the old stand-bys are used up, and the only practical question is, Where are the substitutes to come from? Who shall be trusted to invent them? Not the linguists: they would make them too long and slim. Not the mob: they would make them too short and stout.
There are plenty of words made; but in these times they are all nouns, and what we want are adverbs—'words that qualify verbs, participles, adjectives, and other adverbs.' We could get along well enough with the old adjectives, badly as the superlative degree of some of them has been used. They are capable of being qualified when they become too weak—or, rather, when our taste becomes too strong—just as old ladies qualify their tea when they begin to find the old excitement insufficient. But even this must be done with reason, or we shall soon find with the new supply, as we are now finding with the old, that the bottle gives out before the tea-caddy. The whole language is sufficient, except in the excessives—the ultimates.
Why use up the sublime to express the ridiculous? Why be only noticeable from the force of your language as compared with the feebleness of what you have to say? Why chain Pegasus to an ox cart, or make your Valenciennes lace into horse blankets? If the noble tools did the ignoble work any better, it might be some satisfaction; but cutting blocks with a razor is proverbially unprofitable, and a million-magnifying microscope does not help a bit to tell the time by the City Hall clock. And again: the beggar doth but make his mishaps the more conspicuous by climbing a tree, while the poor bird of paradise, when once fairly on the ground, must needs stay and die, being kept from rising into her more natural element by the very weight of her beauties. Like this last-named victim of misdirected ambition, poetical expressions, being once fairly reduced to the level of ordinary use, so that all feel at liberty to take them in vain, can never 'revocare gradem.'
The elegant, however, is not so much of a loss, as the strong and serviceable part of the language;—which, so far, is like grain in a hopper, always being added to at the top, and ground away at the bottom. The good old unmistakable words seem to sink the faster from their greater specific gravity compared to the chaff that surrounds them; for example: Indeed used to be a fine and reliable word for impressing an assertion, but now it is almost discarded except as a sort of questioning expression of surprise, which might advantageously be shortened thus:?! Strictly interpreted, it denotes a lack of faith, suggesting a possible discrepancy between the words of the speaker and the deeds they relate to. It is but one step removed from the politeness of the Sligo Irishwomen, who say, 'You are a liar,' meaning exactly what an American lady does in saying 'You don't mean so!'
I suppose it seemed as if the force of language could no further go, when men first said really. "What is more indisputable than reality? But it has come to be a sort of vulcanizer, to make plain English, irony. Nowadays, when a young lady adds, 'really,' one may know that she means to cast a doubt over the seriousness of what she says, or to moderate its significance. 'Really, sir, you must not talk so,' is the appropriate form for a tone of decided encouragement to continue your remarks—probably complimentary to herself, or the opposite to some friend. And so we might go on down, taking every word of the sort from the dictionary, and comparing its usefulness now, with that of the time when it had no ambiguity.
Positively, seriously, perfectly, and their synonymes, have been subtracted, one after another, from our list of absolute words,—Burked, carried off, and consumed, by people who, if they had each had the finishing off of one word, instead of each doing a part at the ruin of all, would deserve to have their names handed down to posterity in connection with the ruin they had wrought, as much as ever Erostratus or Martin did; the former, we all know, was he of whom it is said:
'The ambitious youth who fired th' Ephesian dome Outlives in fame the pious fool that reared it.'
The latter, it is not so well known, did likewise by Yorkminster, for a similar purpose, and is now, as Mrs. Partington would say, 'Expatiating his offence' in a lunatic asylum. But their name is legion. How many a man, perhaps, 'father of a family, member of the church, and doing a snug business,' hears every day or two 'positively and without joking or exaggeration, the most perfectly absurd and ridiculous thing, he ever heard in all his born days!'
Actually was a nice word. We suffered a loss when it died, and it deserves this obituary notice. It was a pretty word to speak and to write, and there was a crisp exactness about its very sound that gave it meaning. Requiescat in pace. But last and most to be lamented, comes literally. I could be pathetic about that word. So classic—so perfect—it crystallized the asseveration honored with its assistance. And so early dead! Cut off untimely in the green freshness of its days—and I have not even the Homeric satisfaction of burying it! It still wanders in the shades of purgatory, Vox et praeterea nihil; being bandied about from mouth to mouth of the profane vulgar. And not even by them alone is disrespect offered it, for the grave and practical Mr. Layard says somewhere in the account of his uncoveries, 'They literally bathed my shoes with their tears!' Idem, sed quantum mutatus ab illo! I am almost tempted to the ambiguous wish that he might have slipped in literally to one of the many graves he robbed figuratively.
Now listen for a moment to Miss Giggley, who is telling of her temptation to laugh at some young unfortunate who thought he was making himself very agreeable. 'Really and truly, upon my word and honor, I positively thought I—should—die: as sure as I'm alive.' You pretty liar! You smiling murderess! You playful puss, gracefully toying with the victims your sweet mouth kills! Those expletives were like five strong men standing in a row, and you were like a bright, innocent-looking electric machine, with its transparent and clear-voiced cylinder, which is capable (give it only enough turnings) of making the men, at a shock, into five long, prostrate heaps of clay, lifeless, useless, and offensive, as are the expletives in question, by reason of a succession of just such shocking assaults as the untruth you this moment swore to.
Anonymous writers, as a class, might be called the Boythorns of Literature. All of them, from Junius down, have shown a great satisfaction in waving a tremendously sharp sword out from behind a fence. Sometimes the hand that has held the weapon was strong enough to have done good service wherever it might have been engaged, but always the wielding is a little more fearless than if the owner's face were visible, and usually it is the better for his cause that it was not. We all know what a very large cannon the monkey touched off, and how, if any one had been in the way, it might have hurt him very much. As when a traveller writes of a far country, he tries to make it seem worth all the trouble he took to go there, so a critic must find enough bad about a book to make his article on it important and interesting.
These exaggerators—these captatores (and occisores) verborum—have no idea of the adaptation of means to ends. They are not deficient in forces—they have a powerful army, but no generalship. Horse, foot, and artillery; it's all vanguard. Right, left, and centre—but all vanguard. At the first glimpse, pioneers and scouts, rank and file, sappers and miners, sutlers and supernumeraries, all come thundering down like a thousand of brick, and gleaming in the purple and gold of imagery, to rout, disperse, and confound their obstacle; even if it's only a corporal's guard of one private!
This specialite in newspapers has occasionally been ridiculed, though not very well. Dickens's Eatonsville Gazette and Independent are perhaps the best caricatures; and they are a very good embodiment of a particular class of partisan provincial papers; but they are utterly inadequate to characterize the exaggeration that runs riot through the whole tribe of periodicals—and amok through the serried ranks of Anglo-Saxon words. See the New York Rostrum; daily, weekly, and semi-weekly. It is rampant! It suspects an abuse, and it ramps against it. It seizes an idea, and it ramps toward its development. All who are not with it are against it, and all who are against it are either fools or knaves. The Rostrum never chronicles railroad accidents. Oh, no! It only tells its readers of dastardly and cowardly outrages, committed by blood-thirsty fiends in the shape of presidents and directors against virtuous and estimable passengers, whole hecatombs of whom are assassinated to gratify the hideous appetite for carnage of the officials aforesaid; every one of whom, from the president to the water-boys, ought to suffer the extremest penalty of the law. It doesn't say that they ought to be hung. No! capital punishment was the most benighted characteristic of barbarism. It is a horrid atrocity to bring it down to the present day. Nobody ought to be subjected to it but the slimy reptiles who advocate its continuance.
Not only does the Rostrum behave like a wild bull of Bashan when it is fairly under way, but it is a perfect rocket at starting. It makes haste to commit itself. It is continually entering into bonds to break the peace. Its principle is not unlike that of the Irishman in a row: 'Wherever you see a head, hit it.' It deals around little doses of shillelah, just by way of experiment; and if the unlucky head does not happen to be that of an enemy, make it one; so it's all right again. It carries whole baskets of chips on its shoulders, knock one off who will.
Forgive me, good Rostrum! I honestly believe thee to be the best paper in this world; and my morning breakfast and car ride would be as fasting and a pilgrimage, without thee! It takes all my philosophy and more than all my piety (besides the lying abed late, and the coffee, which we only have once a week) to dispense with thee on Sunday. No paper is so untrammelled as thou art, for thou hast no shackles but those thou thrustest thine own wrists into; and I prize thee more than a whole sheaf of thy compeers, who always try to decide safely by deciding last. Thou art prompt, brave, and straightforward. In nine cases out of ten, when there are two cages open, thou dashest impetuously into the right one. Verily, thou art a little more headstrong than strong-headed, and a little less long-headed than headlong; but I say, rather let me be occasionally wrong with thee than always mean with some of thy rivals. But why be intemperate in thine advocacy of the nigger question, so overbearing in thine efforts for freedom of speech, or why enslave thyself in the cause of liberty? I could imagine a paper without even thy faults—and for this, I know full well that if thou notice me at all, it will be as a besotted and dangerous old fogy.
To be sure, the Rostrum might be found guilty on other counts of the general crime of word-murder. It has done for the word height by spelling it hight, at the same time giving a supererogatory kick to the good old English participle (already deceased) of the latter orthography. And then, it is not always quite certain whether its events occurred or transpired! The misapplication of this last word is a shocking abuse of our defenceless mother tongue, and one I have not often seen publicly rebuked. It is not long since I saw the poor dissyllable in question evidently misapplied in the dedication of a book, and on Sunday, not long ago, I heard the pastor of one of the first churches in the city preach of the power directing the events which transpire in this world!
There are two ways of getting public duties attended to; one of which is to advertise for proposals,—a very expensive way; and the other is to get up a public meeting or association, when all men think it an honor to be elected officers for the sake of seeing their names in the papers. Now this last way is the best, in so many respects that it shall be adopted without hesitation for our purposes. Let there be a new Humane Society established, principally for the prevention of cruelty to words, and let the chief officer of the society be so named as to suggest its chief office—that of 'moderator.' And let us hope that as words are the things in question, deeds will abound, as we so well know the truth of the reverse, that where deeds are to be looked for, words prevail amazingly. Outside of its primary beneficent purpose, it may make provision for charities incidental thereunto. It may appoint one committee for the prevention of cruelty to compositors, to examine the chirography of all MSS. about to be 'put in hand,' and, in any case it thinks necessary, return mercilessly the whole scrawled mass to the author to have t's crossed, i's dotted, a's and o's joined at the top, etc., etc. Another privileged three may be merciful to the authors themselves, by providing for the better reading of proofs, by examining and qualifying the readers thereof; a class in this country very deficient, and for a happy reason: namely, that we have not yet a multitude of literary men, very well educated and very poor, who can find nothing better to do. This last committee would find comparatively little occupation, when the previous one had become effective in its line.
To what an illimitable enterprise does the vastness of our plans lead us! Long vistas open before our eyes, with fine prospects for patronage and the gift of many offices. It is at least equal in dignity and grandeur to the city government, and nothing prevents its becoming a vast scheme of corruption, except that it never can, by any possibility, possess a penny of revenue. Of course there should be a committee of repairs and supplies, and one of immigration, the latter to provide for the naturalization of foreign words and their proper treatment before they could take care of themselves; the former for furnishing a supply to meet the growing demand mentioned at the beginning of this article, and for patching up several of the most obvious imperfections we now suffer from. We want a word for the opposite of a compliment. Not that this is as great a defect as the lack of the word compliment would be in these smooth-spoken times, but still the want is felt, and the feeling is shown by such awkward expedients as the expression 'a left-handed compliment.' Then, besides, they might give the seal of legitimacy to a fine lot of words and phrases, the need of which is shown by their being spontaneously invented, and universally adopted by the vulgar; but which are not classic, have never been written except in caricature, and are therefore inadmissible to the writings of us cowardly fellows who 'do' the current literature. For instance: the word onto, to bear the same relation to on and upon, that the word into does to in and within, has no synonyme, and if we had once adopted it, we should be surprised at our own self-denial in having had it so long in our ears without taking it for the use of our mouths and pens.
The judiciary department should have full power to try all defilers of the well of English, be they these offenders we have been talking of—spendthrifts and drunkards in the use of its strong waters—or be they punsters, or be they the latest development of miscreants, the transposers. To the punsters shall be adjudged a perpetual strabismus, that they may look two ways at once, forever—always seeing double with their bodily eyes, as they have been in the habit of doing with their mental ones. Even so to the transposer. Let him be inverted, and hung by the heels till healed of his disorder.
If this idea of an association is seized upon, I should be happy to suggest well-qualified persons for all the offices except the highest. The most appropriate incumbent for that, modesty forbids my mentioning. But the matter must not be let drop. Unless there can be some check put to the present extravagance, we shall all take to swearing, for I am sure that is the first step beyond it.
STEWART, AND THE DRY GOODS TRADE OF NEW YORK.
Those who have watched the growth of New York, have found a striking criterion of its gradual advance in the different aspects of the dry goods trade. We select this branch of business as a better illustration of the progress of our metropolis than any other, since in breadth, as well as in enterprise, it has always taken the lead. What grocer, hardwareman, druggist, or any other of the different tradesmen of the metropolis, ever wrought out of nothing the majestic structures or the enormous traffic which is represented by some of our dry goods concerns.
Dry goods originally held their headquarters between Wall street and Coenties slip. In those days Front street for grocers, and Pearl for dry goods men, within the limits above mentioned, sufficed for all the demands of trade, and in many instances the jobber lived in the upper part of his store. The great fire of 1835 put an end to all that was left of these primitive manners, and the burnt district was in due time covered with new brick stores, of a style vastly superior to those of the past. At the same time the advance in the price of lots fully made up the loss of insurance on buildings which was inevitable from the universal bankruptcy of fire offices. As trade appeared to be firmly established in that section, a mammoth hotel was built near Coenties slip for the accommodation of country merchants, and was long famous as the 'Pearl Street House.' A jobbing concern at that day might be satisfied with the first floor and basement of a building twenty-five feet by sixty to eighty, in which a business of from one hundred thousand to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars could be done. Such a business was then thought of respectable amount, and few exceeded it.
The trade even at that early day was remarkable for its precariousness—and while a few made fortunes, whole ranks were swept away by occasional panics. In 1840, Hanover square was the dry goods emporium of New York, and there a few years earlier Eno & Phelps commenced a thriving trade which grew into famous proportions. As an illustration of the risks of trade, we may mention that we know of no other concern engaged in that vicinity at that time which escaped eventual bankruptcy. Near Eno & Phelps stood the granite establishment of Arthur Tappan & Co., while lesser concerns were crowded in close proximity. The first disposition to abandon this section was shown by opening new stores in Cedar street, which soon became so popular as a jobbing resort that its rents quadrupled. The Cedar street jobbers would in the present day be considered mere Liliputians, since many of their stores measured less than eighteen by thirty feet. They were occupied by a class of active men, who bought of importers and sold to country dealers on the principle of the nimble sixpence. Of this class (now about extinct) a few built up large concerns, while others, after hopelessly contending year after year with adverse fortune, sunk eventually into bankruptcy, and may in some instances now be found in the ranks of clerkship. From Cedar street, trade moved to Liberty, Nassau, and John streets, while as these new emporiums prospered, Pearl street gradually lost its prestige, until the general hegira of trade in 1848, which left that ancient mart deserted. The Pearl street hotel, which once was thronged by country dealers and city drummers, was then altered into a warehouse for storage, while the jobbing houses, where merchants were wont to congregate, fell into baser uses, and property sunk in value correspondingly.
The 'hegira,' to which we have referred, led from the east to the north side of the town, and was so exacting in its demands, that at length no man could hope to sell goods except in the new locality. Meanwhile, property in Cortlandt, Dey, Vesey, and the neighboring streets, rose immensely, and old rookeries were replaced by elegant stores. The chief features in this improvement were increased size and enlarged room. L.O. Wilson & Co. took the lead in this by opening a store extending through from Cortlandt to Dey street, whose spacious hall could have swallowed up a half dozen old fashioned Pearl street concerns.
It was Mr. Wilson's ambition to break the bondage of antiquated habit, and inaugurate a revolution in trade. He had been a prominent Pearl street man, and had retired with a snug fortune, but had too active a mind to be satisfied with the quiet of retired life, and hence returned to trade with renewed energy. The new concern created a decided sensation, and for several years was successful, but we regret that we cannot record for it any other end than that which is the general fate of New York merchants. The movement which had now been inaugurated, continued with rapid progress until Barclay, Warren, Murray, and Chambers streets were transformed from quiet abodes of wealthy citizens to bustling avenues of trade. With this change the demand for size and ornament still continued, and was accompanied by enormous increase in rents. A newly-built Pearl street jobbing house in 1836 might be worth $1,500 per annum, while $3,000 was considered enormous; but now rents advanced to rates, which, compared with these, seemed fabulous. To meet these expenses, the consolidation of firms was resorted to, and the standard of a good year's trade extended from $250,000 to a million and upward.
From 1848 to 1860 the principle of extension was in active operation. From Chambers street the work of renovation progressed upward, until even Canal street was invaded by jobbers, and until a space of a half mile square had been entirely torn down and rebuilt. Vast fortunes were made in the twinkling of an eye. A German grocer, who held a lease of the corner of Warren and Church streets, received $10,000 for two years of unexpired lease. The fellow found that the property was needed for the improvement of adjacent lots, and made a bold and successful strike for a premium. The church property, corner of Duane and Church streets, one hundred feet square, was sold for $28,000, and within a week resold to a builder for $48,000. The widening of streets now became popular, and a spot long famed for the degradation of its inhabitants, was thrown open to the activities of trade, and its rookeries replaced by marble palaces. What a transformation for Reade, Duane, Church, and Anthony streets, once synonymous with misery and crime, thus to become the splendid seats of trade!
The growth of the dry goods trade had by 1860 assumed proportions which twenty years previously could not have entered into the wildest dreams. Indeed, had a prophet stood in Hanover square at that epoch, and portrayed the future, he would have been met with the charge of lunacy. $30,000 rent for a store was not more absurd than the idea that trade would ever wing its way to a neighborhood chiefly known through the police reports, and only visited by respectable people in the work of philanthropy. The enterprise of New York houses, in either following or leading this movement, is admirably illustrated, and as the merchants of New York are among her public men, we purpose a brief reference to a few leading houses. As it is nothing new to state that only three per cent. of our mercantile community are successful in making fortunes, the results of these examples need not surprise the reader.
Among the chief concerns of nearly forty years' career, may be mentioned C.W. & J.T. Moore & Co., who began in a small way in Pearl street, followed the flood of trade to Broadway, and afterward took possession of the splendid store built by James E. Whiting, on the site of the Broadway theatre. Bowen & McNamee commenced somewhere about 1840, having sprung from the bankrupt house of Arthur Tappan & Co. Their first establishment was in Beaver street, whence they removed to a marble palace which they built in Broadway in 1850, having, in ten years, realized an enormous fortune in the silk trade. Encouraged by the success following this second movement, the firm sold their store at an enormous advance, and purchased the corner of Broadway and Pearl streets, thus indicating that trade had advanced a mile up town. The palatial store which they erected on this spot will long mark the climacteric point in mercantile architecture. It was supposed at the time of its erection to be the finest jobbing store in existence, and although since then both Mr. Astor and James E. Whiting have each put up a splendid marble establishment in Broadway, they have not surpassed the one we refer to. Messrs. Bowen & McNamee were early identified with the progressive views of New England politics, which they maintained throughout their business career. At an early day a system of persecution was opened upon them by a portion of the New York press on the score of their anti-slavery sentiments, to which they replied by announcing that 'they had goods for sale, not opinions.' This bold expression became quite popular in its day, and did much to extend the business of the high-toned concern which proclaimed it, so that what was lost by prejudice was more than gained from legions of new friends, until, for a time, they reaped a golden harvest from a trade which ramified to all parts of the North, East, and West.
Another famous concern which sustained a position diametrically opposite to the one we have just mentioned, was that of Henrys, Smith & Townsend. This house was for more than a quarter of a century distinguished in the dry goods line, but held a Southern trade, and its members were men of corresponding proclivities. Commencing in Hanover square, the firm had followed the drift of trade into Broadway, and had become immensely rich. Like Bowen & McNamee (or Bowen, Holmes & Co., their later firm), they led in political, as well as in mercantile enterprise, and these two houses, like Calpe and Abyla, were for years set over against each other as the trade representatives of the Northern and Southern sentiment.
Yet, whatever may have been their difference of opinion, we are well persuaded of the fact that both houses were composed of patriotic and high-minded men, who differed simply because their views were of an extreme character. We might record other distinguished firms, which like these arose to greatness from humble beginnings, and at last fell like them beneath the revulsion which preceded the present civil war; but these will serve as general illustrations.
With this revulsion the glory of the great houses has passed away. The marble palaces which formerly rented for $20,000 to $50,000, either stand empty or are tenanted at a nominal rate; and the enormous traffic of millions annually, has sunk down to the proportions of primitive times. Those grand Broadway stores must hereafter be divided, for no one concern can fill them, and the dreams of merchant and of builder are alike exploded. The dry goods trade in New York is now under a process of change, and as the dispensation of high rents and broad floors, long credits and enormous sales, seems to be passing away, it is a question of no small interest what shape the trade will put on. We will not attempt to answer that question. We prefer to give a sketch of the man who has done the most to solve it—Mr. A. T. Stewart.
Mr. Stewart possesses one of the most truly executive minds in America. Indeed, as respects this feature, we doubt if any exception could be made to according him the very first position among our business men. Others may occasionally equal him in grasp of intellect, as in the instance of George Law, or Cornelius Vanderbilt; but, considered in the point of executive ability, we consider him unapproachable. He has long been chief among American dry goods dealers, and is known far and wide as the largest merchant (that is, buyer and seller) on this continent, and perhaps in the world. Yet there are thousands, including New Yorkers as well as country people, who have lost sight of Mr. Stewart's personality, and mention his name daily, and, perhaps, hourly, merely as the representative of a mammoth house of trade. The reason of this is obvious: hundreds and thousands have dealt year after year in that marble palace without ever beholding its proprietor. To such persons the name 'Stewart' has become merely a symbol, or, at most, a term of locality. To them he is a myth, with no personal entity. To their minds the term sets forth, instead of so many feet stature encased in broadcloth, with countenance, character, and voice like other men, merely a train of ideas, a marble front, plate glass, gorgeous drapery, legion of clerks, paradise of fashion, crowds of customers, and all the fascination of a day of shopping. 'Where did you get that love of a shawl?' asks Miss Matilda Namby Pamby of her friend Miss Araminta Vacuum. 'Why, at Stewart's, of course,' is the inevitable reply; 'and so cheap! only $250.' Now, to this pair of lady economists, what is 'Stewart's' but a mere locality, as impersonal as Paris or Brussels, or any other mart of finery? We would correct this tendency to the unreal (which, by the way, is very natural), by stating that behind the mythic idea, there is a Stewart; not a mere locality, but a man—plain, earnest, and industrious—who, amid this army of clerks and bustle of external traffic, drives the secret machinery with wonderful precision. Purchasers at retail are the most liable to the symbolic idea, since they never behold the existing Stewart. They see hundreds of salesmen, some stout and some thin, some long and some short, some florid and some pale, moving about in broadcloth, with varied port of dignity and importance, who may look as if they would like to own a palace. Yet among these the proprietor will be sought in vain. But if one ascends to the second story, he will find himself in a new world. This is the wholesale establishment, and here Mr. Stewart appears as the presiding genius.
As one enters this department he may observe, in a large office on the side of the house looking into Chambers street, the grandmaster of the mammoth establishment, sitting at the desk, and occupied by the pressing demands of so important a position. Here, from eight in the morning until a late dinner hour, he is engrossed by the schemes and plans of his active brain. He bears a calm and thoughtful appearance, and yet, such is his executive ability, that the burden which would crush others is borne by him with comparative ease. His aspect and manners are plain and simple to a remarkable degree, and a stranger would be surprised to acknowledge in that tall form and quiet countenance, the Autocrat of the Dry Goods Trade. This man did not achieve this position save by patient toil; his greatness was not 'thrust upon him.' It has arisen from forty years of close application to the branch of trade which he adopted in early life, and to which he has bent his rare powers of mind. Like most of our successful men, he began the world with no capital beside brains; and like Daniel Webster and Louis Philippe, his early employment was teaching. The instructor, however, was soon merged in the business man, and in 1827 his unpretending name was displayed in Broadway, The little concern in which he then was salesman, buyer, financier, and sole manager, has gradually increased in importance, until it has become the present marble palace. It is probable that much of his early prosperity was owing to a remarkably fine taste in the selection of dress goods; but the subsequent breadth of his operations and their splendid success may be ascribed to his love of order, and its influence upon his operations. Years of practice upon this idea have enabled him to reduce everything to a system. Beside this, he is a first-class judge of character, reads men and schemes at a glance, and continually exhibits a depth of penetration which astonishes all who witness it. Thus, although sitting alone in his office, he is apparently conscious of whatever is going on in all parts of his establishment. So completely is he en rapport with matters on the different floors, that the clerks sometimes imagine that there must be an invisible telegraph girdling the huge building. These men often say, by way of pleasant illustration of this fact, that if any one of them is absent, he is the very man to be first called for. From this it may be understood that it is not an easy matter to vary from the rigid system which holds its alternative of diligence or discharge over all beneath its control. We have referred to Mr. Stewart's habits of order as a means by which he controls his vast business with apparent ease. To explain this more explicitly, we may state that each department or branch of trade is under a distinct manager. These wholesale departments have been increased every year, until there is hardly an item in the comprehensive variety of the dry goods trade that is not here to be found. The advantage of this progressive movement was lately shown by the fact that, while Mr. Stewart lost enormous sums by Southern repudiation, he made up a large portion of the loss by the recent advance in domestics, a department which he had just added to his stock. The numerous failures which take place among New York business men give Mr. Stewart the choice among them for his managers, and a representation of the finest business talent of the city can, at this moment, be found in his establishment. These men turn their energies into that mighty channel which flows into his treasury. Indeed, to this merchant prince, they are what his marshals were to Napoleon, and, like him, this Autocrat of Trade sits enthroned in the insulated majesty of mercantile greatness.
It may be inferred that no man in the concern works harder than its owner, and we believe that this is acknowledged by all its employes. Day after day he wears the harness of silent and patient toil.
It is not generally known that during these hours of application, and while engrossed in the management of his immense operations, no one is allowed to address him personally until his errand or business shall have been first laid before a subordinate. If it is of such a character that that gentleman can attend to it, it goes no farther, and hence it vests with him to communicate it to his principal. To illustrate this circumstance, we relate the following incident: A few weeks ago a person entered the wholesale department, with an air of great importance, and demanded to see the proprietor. That proprietor could very easily be seen, as he was sitting in his office, but the stranger was courteously met by the assistant, with the usual inquiry as to the nature of his business. The stranger, who was a Government man, bristled up and exclaimed, indignantly, 'Sir, I come from Mr. Lincoln, and shall tell my business to no one but Mr. Stewart.' 'Sir,' replied the inevitable Mr. Brown, 'if Mr. Lincoln himself were to come here, he would not see Mr. Stewart until he should have first told me his business.'
The amount of annual sales made at this establishment is not known outside of the circle of managers, but may be variously estimated at from ten to thirty millions. This includes the retail department, whose daily trade varies, according to weather and season, from three thousand to twelve thousand dollars per day. To supply this vast demand for goods, Mr. Stewart has agencies in Paris, London, Manchester, Belfast, Lyons, and other European marts. Two of the above cities are the permanent residences of his partners; and while Mr. Fox represents the house in Manchester, Mr. Warton occupies the same position in Paris. These gentlemen are the only partners of the great house of A.T. Stewart & Co.
The marble block which the firm now occupies was built nearly twenty years ago. It had been the site of an old-fashioned hotel—which, like many others of its class, bore the name of 'Washington,' and which was eventually destroyed by fire. Mr. Stewart bought the plot at auction for less than $70,000, a sum which now would be considered beneath half its value. To this was subsequently added adjacent lots in Broadway, Reade and Chambers streets, and the present magnificent pile reared. To such of our readers as walk Broadway, we need not add any detail of its dimensions, nor mention what is now well known, that, large as it is, it is still too small for the increasing business. Hence another mercantile palace has been erected by Mr. Stewart in Broadway near Tenth street. This is intended for the retail trade, and is, no doubt, the most convenient, as well as the most splendid structure of the kind in the world. After the retail department shall have been thus removed up town the present store will be devoted to the wholesale trade.
If any of our readers should inquire what impulse moves the energies of one whose circumstances might warrant a life of ease, we presume that the reply would be force of character and the strength of habit. Mr. Stewart has an empire in the world of merchandise which he can neither be expected to resign or abdicate. We cannot regret that law of centralization which builds up one marble palace, where hundreds have failed utterly to make a living. Centralization of trade has its objections, and yet, upon the whole, there is, no doubt, a much healthier and happier condition prevailing among the parties connected with Mr. Stewart, than would be found among the struggling concerns (say fifty or more) whose place he has taken. Centralization is a law in trade whose movement crushes the weak by an inevitable step, while, by compelling them to take refuge beneath the protection of the strong it affords a better condition than the one from which they have been driven. To his early perception of this law Mr. Stewart largely owes his present colossal fortune.
As on the top of Lebanon, Slowly the Temple grew, All unobserved, though every shaft A giant shadow threw:
Unheeded, though the golden pomp Of ponderous roof and spire, Wrought in the chambers of the earth, Like subterranean fire:
Until the huge translated pile, By brother kings upreared, On Zion's hill, enthroned at last, In silence reappeared.
So, not with observation comes God's kingdom in the heart; But like that Temple, silently, With golden doors apart.
And all the Mighty Ones that watch, With folded wings above, Trembling with awe, now stoop to earth, On messages of love.
Another Temple riseth fast, Unbuilt of mortal hands, Upheaving to the battle-blast Of Freedom's conquering bands!
The bannered host—the darkened skies— The thunderings all about, Foreshadow but a Nation's birth, Answering a Nation's shout!
RED, YELLOW, AND BLUE.
Alas for the old fashions! Wonder, incredulity, curiosity, and a crowd of primitive sensations, the whooping host that greeted, like misformed brutes on Circean shores, the steamboat and the telegraph, are passing away on a Lethean tide, and our mysteries are departing from among us. The intelligence which so long gazed wistfully upon the barred door of nature, or picked unsuccessfully at the bolts, with skeleton theories, and vague speculations, had learned to try the 'open sesame' of science. The master key is turning, the shafts yield, and already a dim glory shines through.
While the strides of a positive philosophy are crippled by enthusiastic rhapsodies about intuition and instinct, her footsteps are still indelible, and her progress is certain and accelerating. Reason is written on her brow; she appeals to the universal gift, and denies the authoritative dictations of fallible genius, as much as a moral equality disallows the divine right of kings. Speculators among stars, speculators among sounds and colors, are the skirmishers in front of an intellectual post, whose tread reverberates but little in their rear. Accoutred with a few empiric facts and inductive minds, they aspire to beautiful and stable theories, whence they may descend, by deductive steps, accurate even to mathematical absoluteness, to the very arcana of what has been the inexplicable. To them the true, the beautiful, must be facts, defined, realized, and vigorously analyzed. Visible embodiments of an incomprehensible grace must be disintegrated, and the thinnest essences escape not the analytical rack whereon they confess the causal entity of their composition. 'Broad-browed genius' may toss his locks in the studio redolent of art; his eye may light, and his nervous fingers print the grand creation on the canvas. The divine afflatus is in his nostrils; it is his spirit, and his picture is the reflex of his soul. But keen-eyed Science lays a shadowy hand upon the 'holy coloring,' and says: 'Truly, the harmony is beautiful; it has pleased a sympathetic instinct from the first. Yet, from the first, my laws have been upon it—inexorable laws, which answer to the mind as instinct echoes to the soul.'
The august simile of the philosopher, who likened the world to a vast animal, is appearing each day as too real for poetry. The ocean lungs pulse a gigantic breath at every tide, her continental limbs vibrate with light and electricity, her Cyclopean fires burn within, and her atmosphere, ever giving, ever receiving, subserves the stupendous equilibrium, and betrays the universal motion. Motion is material life; from the molecular quiverings in the crystal diamond, to the light vibrations of a meridian sun—from the half-smothered sound of a whispered love, to the whirl of the uttermost orb in space, there is life in moving matter, as perfect in particulars, and as magnificent in range, as the animation which swells the tiny lung of the polyp, or vitalizes the uncouth python floundering in the saurian slime of a half-cooled planet.
When a polar continent heaves from the bosom of the deep, or when the inquiring eye rests upon the serrated rock, the antique victim of some drift-dispersing glacier, the mind perceives the effects and recognizes the existence of nature's omnipotent muscles, and their appalling power.
But that adventurer who chases the chain of necessity to the sources of this grand instability, is merged at once in a haze of speculations, beautiful as sunlight through morning mists, but uncertain as the veriest chimeras. While beyond the idea of comprehensive motion the colossal symmetry of Truth expands in ultimate outlines, her features are shrouded, but in such an attractive clare-obscure of inviting analogies and semi-satisfying glimpses, that the temptation to guess at the ideal face almost overpowers the desire to kiss the real and shining feet below. Unfortunately, there is the domain of the myths and immaterials, there is the home of the law and the force, there dwell the Odyles, the electricities, the magnetisms, and affinities, and there the speculative AEneas pursues shadows more fleeting than the Stygian ghosts, and the grasp of the metaphysician closes on shapes whose embrace is vacancy. The bark that ploughs within this mystic expanse, sheds from its cleaving keel but coruscations of phosphorescent sparkles, which glimmer and quench in a gloom that Egyptian seers never penetrated, and modern guessers cannot conjecture through. There is, indeed, 'oak and triple brass' upon his breast who steeps his lips in the chalice of the Rosicrucian, and the doom of Prometheus is the fabled defeat which is waiting for the wanderer in those opaque spaces. While we warily, therefore, tread not upon the ground whose trespass brought the vulture of unfilled desire, the craving void for visionary lore upon the heaven-born, earth-punished speculator, we can still find flowery paths and full fruition, in meadows wherein the light of reason requires no support from the ignes fatui of imagination; meadows after all so broad, that did not metaphysics 'teach man his tether,' they would seem illimitable. The book of nature is not spread before us, turning leaf after leaf at every sunrise, with new delineations on every page, to be stared at with vacant inanity, or criticized with imbecile verbosity. The rivulet does not tinkle and the sky does not look blue that people may feed the ear alone with the one, or satisfy the eye alone with the other; the nerves which carry the sensation to the brain, flutter with the news, and knock at the house of mind for explanation. We do not anticipate being hurried into any extravaganza about the rural felicity of green trees, clinking cowbells, cane chairs, and cigars, when we recall to the trainer of surburban vines the harmony, the analogy, the relationship, which he must have observed between sounds and colors in nature's album of melodies.
When, at evening, the zenith blue melts away toward the horizon in dreamy violet, and the retreating sun leaves limber shafts of orange light, like Parthian arrows, among the green branches of the elms, what sounds can charm the ear like the soft chirrup of the cricket, the homely drone of the hive-seeking bee, and the cool rustle of the breeze through the tops of the spring-sodden water grasses? How fondly the mind blends the evening colors and the incipient voices of the night! 'Oh,' says the metaphysician, 'this is association: just so a strain of music reminds you of a fine passage in a book you have read, or a beautiful tone in a picture you have seen; just so the Ranz des Vaches bears the exile to the timber house, with shady leaves, corbelled and strut-supported, whose very weakness appeals to the avalanche that shakes an icicly beard in monition from the impeding crags.'
Well, let association play her part in some cases; when a habit has necessitated the recurrence of two distinct ideas together, they will certainly be associated at times when the habit is gone; but suppose the analogy is felt when the ideas have never before been in juxtaposition, or when there has even been no sensation at all to generate one of the notions. How, for instance, did the sightless imaginer ever conceive that red must be like the sound of the trumpet? Simply because the analogy between color and music is deeper than the idea of either, more absolute than association could make it; because certain tints are calculated to produce exactly similar impressions on the eye that certain sounds do upon the ear; or, to use a mathematical turn of expression, because some color [Greek: x] is to the eye as some sound [Greek: x] is to the ear.
That this mathematical turn of expression is no vagary, but perfectly germane to the subject, and accurate in application, we propose to prove to those who love coincidences and analogies sufficiently to fish them out of a little dilute science.
Light and sound are the daughters of motion. Color and music, the ethereal and aerial offspring of this ancestry, born with the world, fostered in Biblical times, expanded in China and Egypt, living on the painted jar, and breathing in the oaten reed, deified in Greece, and analyzed to-day, are natural cousins at the least, and they have come from the spacious home of their progenitor, upon our dusky and silent sphere, like Peace and Goodwill, with hands bound in an oath and contract never to part. We will spare a dissertation on chaos; we will not speak of matter and inertia; but as our greatest and purest fountain of light is the sun, we may be allowed a modest exposition of his philosophical state, as a granite gate to the garden beyond. Ninety-five millions of miles to the north, east, south, or west of us, up or down, as the case may be, stands the molten centre of our system—an orb, whose atoms, turbulent with electricity, gravity, or whatever mechanists please to call the attraction of particle for particle, are forever urging to its centre, forever meeting with repulsions when they slide within the forbidden limits of molecular exclusiveness, and eternally vibrating with a quake and quiver which lights and heats the worlds around. In other words, this agitation is one that, transmitted to an ethereal medium, produces therein corresponding vibrations or waves, which are light and heat.