Modern education has not given us men who write better epitaphs or men who build better houses. It has given us men who are afraid to write epitaphs and leave it to the vicar. It has given us men who are afraid to build houses and leave it to the architect. — G. K. Chesterton

Negro and the Nation - G. S. Merriam




How they Differed

If the typical Secessionist and the typical Unionist, as just described, could rally a united South and a united North to their respective views, there was no escape from a violent clash. Whether the two sections could be so united each in itself appeared extremely doubtful. But below these special questions of political creed were underlying divergences of sentiment and character between North and South, which fanned the immediate strife as a strong wind fans a starting flame. There was first a long-growing alienation of feeling, a mutual dislike, rooted in the slavery controversy, and fed partly by real and partly by imaginary differences. Different personal and social ideals were fostered by the two industrial systems. The Southerner of the dominant class looked on manual labor as fit only for slaves and low-class whites. His ideal of society was a pyramid, the lower courses representing the physical toilers, the intermediate strata supplying a higher quality of social service, while the crown was a class refined by leisure and cultivation and free to give themselves to generous and hospitable private life, with public affairs for their serious pursuit. He regarded the prominence of the laboring class in Northern communities as marking the inferiority of their society, and in the absorption of the wealthier class in trade he read a further disadvantage. The virtues he most honored were courage, courtesy, magnanimity,—all that he delighted to characterize as "chivalry." He was inclined to consider the North as materialistic and mercenary, and even its virtues as based largely on "honesty is the best policy."

This low opinion was heartily reciprocated by the Northerner. He believed the very foundation of Southern society to be injustice,—the unpaid labor of the slave,—and the superstructure to correspond. He looked on the slave-holders as cruel to their slaves and arrogant toward the world at large, especially toward himself. The popular opinion of slavery fastened on its abuses and ignored its mitigations. On the average reader of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Legree made a deeper impression than St. Clare or Mrs. Shelby.

Even the religious and intellectual life of the two sections had grown unsympathetic and often antagonistic. The South held tenaciously to the traditional orthodox theology. In the North there was free discussion and movement of thought. Even the conservative Presbyterian church had its New School and Old School; and in New England the Congregational body was divided by the birth and growth of Unitarianism. At all this turmoil the South looked askance, and was genuinely shocked by the disintegration of the old creed. The North in turn looked with something like suspicion, if not scorn, on a Christianity which used the Bible as an arsenal to fortify slavery. The Northern brood of reforms and isms,—wise, unwise, or fantastic,—moved the South to a hostility which made little discrimination between the idealism of Emerson, the iconoclasm of Parker, and the vagaries of "free love." The group of literary lights,—Bryant, Longfellow, Lowell, Whittier, Holmes, and their compeers,—won Southern dislike by their hostility to slavery. The South itself, singularly barren of original literature,—its prolific new births in our own day are one of the most conspicuous fruits of emancipation,—clung fondly to the classical and feudal traditions, and hardly admitted any literary sovereign later than Scott and Byron.

In a national union, as in marriage, there may be long continuance and even substantial happiness in spite of many differences. So was it with England and Scotland, so is it with Germany and with Italy. But in slavery there was so profound an incompatibility with the fact and idea of personal freedom as held by the American people at large, that the inevitable opposition of the two systems was desperate almost beyond cure. That opposition, and all the attendant circumstances of divergence, were aggravated in their divisive effects by the extreme bitterness of the foremost debaters on both sides. The very nature of the subject tempted to vehement criticism, and defense of equal vehemence. But there was a great aggravation of bitterness when, in the van of the attack on slavery, the temper of Woolman and Lundy, of Jefferson and Franklin and Channing, was replaced by the temper of Garrison and his followers. Their violence inflamed alike the North and the South, and, with the answering violence it provoked, worked the two peoples into a largely false and unjust conception of each other's character. The South's retort was no less passionate in words, while in act it took form in expulsion of citizens and suppression of free speech. Garrison's burning words, and the polished invective of Phillips, live in literature; the wrath which answered them in Southern orators and newspapers has left less of record; but on both sides the work was effectually done of sowing mutual suspicion and hate.

If only North and South could have known each other's best, as they knew each other's worst! They were kept apart by the want of any stream of migration between them, like that which united East and West, with the resulting network of family connections and friendly intercourse. Sometimes a Northern visitor, or an English traveler like Thackeray, saw and appreciated the cultivated society of Charleston or Richmond, or plantation life at its best,—a hospitable, genial, outdoor life, with masters and mistresses who gave their best thought and toil to the care of their servants. Sometimes a Southerner had a revelation like that of General Zachary Taylor, when, looking from one of the heights in Springfield, "the city of homes," on a landscape thick dotted with the cheerful abodes of an industrial community, he exclaimed: "You can see no such sight as that in a Southern State!" And always there were some men and women who out of wide knowledge or a natural justice recognized and loved the people of the whole land. But too frequently, in those days, the Southerner saw in the North only a mass of plebeian laborers excited by political and religious fanaticism; while the Northerner looked south to a group of tyrannical and arrogant slaveholders lording it over their victims. To the one, the typical figure of the North was John Brown; to the other, the representative of the South was Brooks of South Carolina.

There were two other marked differences between the sections. The first was the greater concentration of interest in the South on national politics, and the leadership conceded to the political class. In the North, the general occupation in laborious and gainful pursuits, and the wide variety of social interests which competed for attention,—education, reform, the debating society, the town-meeting,—all acted to hold men in other fields than those of national politics. The best brains were invited by commerce, the factory, the railroad, the college, the laboratory, the newspaper,—as well as by the Capitol. But to the Southern planter and his social compeer no pursuit compared in attraction with the political field, and above all the public life of the nation. The mass of the people, especially in the country districts, found in the political meeting an interest whose only rival was the camp-meeting. Besides, when the burning political question was slavery, it came home to the business and bosoms of the South, while to the North it was remote. And thus, when the secession movement broke upon the land, the Southern people grasped it with a concentration, energy, and response to their habitual leaders, in strongest contrast to the surprise, hesitation, and division, which at first characterized the North.

And, as the last distinction to be here noted, one section was far more habituated than the other to methods of physical force in private and public affairs. It was an instance of this that the duel was in common practice at the South up to the Civil War, while at the North it had disappeared sixty years earlier, after the encounter of Burr and Hamilton. At the South the street affray was common. There is a picture of Southern life which ought to have a wide reading, in Kate Beaumont, a story of South Carolina, written by J. W. De Forest, a Northerner and a Union soldier. Its tone is sympathetic, and neither the negro nor the sectional question plays a part. It portrays admirable and delightful people; old Judge Kershaw is indeed "the white rose of South Carolina chivalry," and the Beaumonts and McAllisters, with all their foibles, are a strong and lovable group. But the pistol is the ready arbiter of every quarrel; the duelist's code is so established that it can hardly be ignored even by one who disapproves it; and the high-toned gentleman is no whit too high for the street encounter with his opponent. Old-time Southerners know how faithful is that picture. So, too, the Southern people turned readily to public war. They supplied the pioneers who colonized Texas and won by arms its independence of Mexico. They not only supported the Mexican war by their votes, but many of the flower of their youth enlisted for it. From their young men were recruited the "filibusters" who, from time to time, tried to revolutionize or annex Cuba or some Central American State. The soldier figured largely in the Southern imagination. But the North inclined strongly to the ways of peace. That is the natural temper of an industrial democracy. It is the note of a civilization advanced beyond slavery and feudalism. And of the moral leaders of the North, some of the foremost had been strong champions of peace. Channing had pleaded for it as eloquently as he pleaded for freedom. Intemperance, slavery, and war had been the trinity of evil assailed by earnest reformers. Sumner had gone to the length of proclaiming the most unjust peace better than the justest war,—an extreme from which he was destined to be converted. Garrison and Phillips, while their language fanned the passions whose inevitable tendency is toward war, had in theory declared all warfare to be unchristian. And, apart from sentiment or conviction, the industrial and peaceful habit was so widely diffused that it was questionable how much remained of the militant temper which can and will fight on good occasion. The South rashly believed that such temper was extinct in the North, and the North on its part doubted how far the vaunts of Southern courage had any substance.