William Rounseville Alger (1822-1905) preached this sermon in 1861 on the Civil War.







April 28, 1861.





Many ministers think it best in their sermons to pass by the outer convulsions of the hour, without notice. “These agitating topics,” they say, “excite the people all the week. Newspaper, shop, street, parlor, each avenue of society, every crevice of the world, are filled with their vexing buzz and fever from Monday morning till Saturday night. When Sunday dawns, and to the notes of holy bells we gather in the sanctuary, for God’s sake let there be a truce to the harass of temporal themes and conflicts. Let us, in the sweet communion of Heaven, enjoy a respite from the harsh jars of the earth. Here we will forget the strife and turmoil that have lacerated and wearied us, and busy ourselves only with penitence and worship, with the great realities of faith and sanctification, wooing down to our jaded bosoms celestial hopes and peace.”

This strain of thought is so plausible to reason, so congenial to the pious sentiments of the soul hungering for something better than the material issues of the moment, that I do not wonder it is so often acted on, and even set forth as the only justifiable course for a Christian preacher. Yet, if taken without qualification, there is a large infusion of sophistry in it. In the first place, it is, to a great extent, vain to try to do this, however desirable it be in itself. The uppermost questions of the time are not so easily dismissed on crossing the threshold of a church. The profound excitements that upheave a community, the startling events of disaster or triumph that thrill every member of a society, the appalling or magnificent emergencies that suddenly confront a people, setting every passion on fire and every thought a-vibrating, will not drop out of sight because the bell has tolled, nor cease to urge their importunate claims because yon preacher is arguing the inspiration of the Book of Jonah, or defending the metaphysics of the Westminster Catechism. They will be thought of, in spite of all attempts to banish them. Who, that has a heart to feel and a mind to reflect, can forget the portentous tidings with which these hours are teeming, the storm of revolution bursting around the Capitol, the alarming throes of the country,—all he holds dear, as scholar, patriot, and philanthropist, staked on the result? The sensitive moral ligaments that connect the individual with the body politic are too numerous and powerful to admit of it. The other day, I saw a little bird perched on the telegraph-wire that stretched away towards Washington, gaily chirping there, unconscious of the momentous messages shooting under him. “Ah! Happy creature,” thought I, “well may you toss your careless notes to the sky. You little dream what fearful throbs, in the bosoms of this swaying crowd below, answer the magnetic shocks of intelligence that fly along the line on which you poise in ignorant and blissful innocence. You know not that confederate traitors are striving to tear down and scatter on this Western strand the fairest nest of freedom and happiness humanity has yet built on the bleak earth.” That guiltless warbler’s little life is no type of ours. Our intense, widely ramifying knowledge and sympathy, set in quick connection with all the forces and events of time and nature, compel us to think with the most earnest tenacity on the most pressing interests and problems of our life. Therefore, if the preacher would not speak to the unheeding air, he must in some degree forsake technical abstractions, and treat those living issues of the time which are absorbing the attention of his hearers.

Furthermore, why should we wish to avoid this course? Is it not right that we should take the great affairs of life up to a higher range than that of our average moods, and there interpret them, and seek to guide them in the light of the most exalted considerations? Is it not the best thing we can do, to bring the severe exigencies of life with us into the church, and survey them from the high, calm vantage-ground of the altar of prayer? To do otherwise is to ostracize the largest portions of experience from the sanctuary as profane, and make religion a formal thing, quite apart from the living work of the world. However some may say, “We undertake solely to expound the Bible and to preach Christ crucified,” I am compelled to take my stand with those who think that the Crucifixion and the Scripture are not ends to be contemplated for themselves, but means to a practical good beyond,—that to inspire mankind with the spirit of self-sacrificing love, this to lead them to rectify their conduct by the lines of righteousness and piety: so that the preacher best fulfils the functions of his office when he most effectually urges his hearers to follow the teaching and example of Christ in their daily lives, forming their characters and guiding their actions by the principles of a sound morality and the sentiments of a pure religion. The preaching that sets forth an abstruse theory of the atonement, generally passes for nothing: the preaching that tries to show how we can harmonize our tempted lies with the law of God, naturally bears fruit. Who cares at this moment to know how many wheels the chariot of Pharaoh had when it sank in the Red Sea? He who can tell us how best to gird up our loins for a cheerful support of present cares, and a hearty discharge of the morrow’s duties, speaks to the real wants of the time and to the responsive hearts of men. To occupy such moments as these in describing the hypothetic details of the Israelitish march out of Egypt and through the dry bed of the deep is work fit only for a fossil preacher. The topic that summons ministers who sympathize with their people, and look ahead, is, How shall we safely carry our blessings and hopes through that Red Sea of battle whose first bloody spray already sprinkles the skirts of our country?

You will, ere this, have anticipated the subject of my discourse: Our Civil War, AS SEEN FROM THE PULPIT. The dire catastrophe of domestic struggle impending over our land agitates every breast, calls forth the anxious speculations of every mind. Through the lifelong week, it is looked at in every material aspect from the various stand-points of the world,—the counting-room of the merchant, the camp of the soldier, the council-chamber of the ruler, the public hall and street where the eager crowd interchange their views. Self-interest fumes with indignation, or droops in fear; loyalty grasps its good blade, and vows, wherever the flag waves, to defend it, or die; the leaders construct their plan of operations; every group of talkers represents some who are pale with grief and foreboding, others who are hissing-hot with passion. Under these circumstances, is it not well to go up into the house of God, and survey the ominous subject from the position of Christian principle and sentiment? Do we not need to lift the all-engrossing theme out of the secular vortex of pecuniary interests and partisan prejudices into the holy quietude of Sunday and the church, and there study it in the light of morality and religion to find what our duties really are? I am not willing to abandon such momentous concerns utterly to the worldly instincts and policies of men. I claim them as lying within the jurisdiction of that moral order which expresses the Divine Will, of whose requirements and sovereign authority the preacher is the instituted expounder. Come, therefore,—now that a fratricidal struggle lowers in front, ready to break in all its horror,—“let us go up to the house of God, and ask him to teach us.”

The first word our civil war, as seen from the pulpit, should force from us, is a protest against the intrinsic brutality, folly, and crime of this mode of settling controversies. It is a relic of barbarous ages, which we ought to have outgrown long ago, and every recurrence of which is a ghastly satire on our boasted civilization. Look at it dispassionately for a moment. Two States quarrel. What out to follow? Why, forbearance, mutual conciliation of prejudices, common adjustment of claims at the bar of moral truth and right as declared by competent expounders. This would peacefully settle every difficulty, and prove, that, in the long-run, the welfare of each is subserved by the rights and interests of all. Instead of acting thus, to rush to arms in frenzied haste and hate, lay harmless villages in ashes, tear thousands of innocent persons in pieces with infernal implements of slaughter, fill the land with wailing widows and orphans, and at last decide the dispute by the unhallowed rule of might, is conduct unworthy of cultivated men,—conduct which Christian thinkers cannot exult in, but must rather weep at. War is a discord in the music of humanity, a clash in the machinery of society, the accompaniment of a fearfully imperfect civilization; not in any form an exemplification of the will of God, but the horrid work of wicked men; to be profoundly lamented, avoided whenever it consistently can be, utterly left behind as soon as possible. The natural influence of each fresh outbreak of it is to blight the industry and bankrupt the resources of a country, and to inflame and give a new lease of power to that combative spirit which is from beneath. Now, as ever,—nay, more than ever,—it becomes the preacher to give emphasis to the fact, that war is not a glorious opportunity, to be coveted and to feel proud of, but a tremendous evil, which good men can accept only in stern sadness, as a necessity forced on them by the savage passions of a sinful age. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you;” “Love your enemies;” “Resist not evil,”—are expressions of the perfect law of society towards which we must aim. To conform unhesitatingly to that law, in the present state of men and things, is impossible, would be self-destructive. Yet we must not forget that that is the absolute standard of duty, and that every thing opposed to it, or short of it, is a temporary concession to imperfection and crime, which we ought to regret, and strive as speedily as possible to outgrow. We study the pure laws of mechanics, the fixed truths of theoretic science, although they cannot be reduced to practice without large allowances on account of atmospheric pressure and cohesive abrasion. Neither should we overlook the pure laws of morality, and forswear our ultimate allegiance to them, because they must sometimes be partially broken in the shocks and attritions of the present perverse and incomplete state of mankind.

In the swallowing flood and tempest of patriotic fervor surging through the popular breast at a time like this, moral boundaries and lights, which ought ever to be firmly perceived and adhered to, are very apt to be blotted out by the swash of emotional sophistry. For instance: it is said, “To go to the conflict, and to cut down the foe without mercy, is a religious duty.” I think this is putting the matter on a false ground, confounding things wholly distinct. I say, to fight down this infamous rebellion is not religion in any sense at all, but is a civil obligation, a social necessity rising superior to every thing else, and, for the time being, putting religion into abeyance. Religion is purity, prayer, and peace; to subject the passions to the conscience; to be meek and pious; to forgive injuries; to love our neighbors as ourselves, and God with all the heart. War is, to let loose the destructive elements of our nature, to brook no insult, to suppress opposition, to burn and kill. Now, this is to be justified, not by baptizing it with the abused name of Religion, but by recognizing it as one of those emergencies in the career of a nation, where the supreme instinct of self-preservation asserts itself unto the temporary subordination of every other authority. Morality is the system of usages rightfully administering the life of a nation. Religion is the loving and reverential spirit rightfully animating those usages, and giving them celestial emphasis and direction. War is neither the rightful rule nor the rightful spirit of a nation’s life, but the instinctive resource of a nation in self-defence when its life is threatened; its re-actionary self-vindication when its material existence, the government, or its spiritual vitality, the public honor, is assailed. Obviously, on the inevitable ground of instinct, life itself must take precedence both of its formal rules, or morality, and of its flowering spirit, or religion. The genuine justification of our military attitude and work in this crisis rests on the basis of civil obligation and social necessity, not on the basis of ethical right and religious duty. You might as well say it is a spiritual duty to eat and drink; whereas the truth is, that eating and drinking are instinctive acts called forth by the approaches of hunger and thirst towards the citadel of our existence. When you must fight, for life, justice, or freedom, do it with a will; but leave the serene sanctities of religion celestially enthroned,—their loving service to be returned to at the earliest moment. Do not profanely drag them down, and identify your fighting with them.

War, then, let it be repeated, is a violation of the precepts of pure Christianity; the horrible scourge that follows injustice and pride. Christ, who was the Prince of Peace, said, “Put up your sword; my kingdom is not of this world:” “Do good unto them that hate you:” “If a man smite you on one cheek, turn the other:” “If your enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst give him drink.” How any minister of his can deliberately stand in the sacred desk, and hail civil war with gladness, gloat over it, and jubilantly hound his people on to the fray, passes my comprehension. I can only feel justified in saying, Since this dread calamity has been forced upon us, sorrowfully and solemnly let us accept it; trusting that God will overrule the evil to some great good, and sternly determined never to retreat an inch nor yield a tittle until the right is vindicated, and impartial freedom set on high.

Having protested against the evil of martial strife, and accepted it only as inevitable compromise with the pressures and frictions of selfish ambition for keeping the rightful framework of the Government in legitimate action, the second word needing to be said, when we look at our civil war from the pulpit, is, Let a careful guard be kept over the lower passions which such a crisis naturally evokes and stimulates. Let not reckless wrath and desire be permitted to preside over the utterances and doings of the exasperated hour, but see that reason and conscience are maintained in their proper seats of authority. The true patriot loves his country, not as a bear loves his den, but as a poet loves beauty, as a philosopher loves truth, as a saint loves his God. No matter what provocations are furnished, the animal thirst for vengeance must be kept down, if we would show ourselves worthy of our professions as members of a Christian community. Men of cultivated minds, men educated in morals, bridle and subdue those base impulses of hate and retaliation which are still organic in the wild blood inherited from the primitive epochs of humanity. They have learned to forbear and to forgive. They are capable of magnanimity. Above all, they practice accurate discrimination; striking for justice, but not pursuing revenge. Passion is inherently diffusive and indiscriminating. Its ravenous madness devours all barriers, overspreads all boundaries, would lave and infuse the universe with itself. It belongs to ethical reason—that is, conscience—to observe distinctions; to draw accurate lines, and abide by them. Consequently, at this moment, when an unparalleled excitement pervades the pervades the public mind, and fire courses through the veins of the national organism, it behooves the pulpit to stand calm and firm, like a column of the Lord, to stay a little the fury of the torrent, not lend it added impulse, while the Christian preacher cries to the unloosed passions of men, “Beware of excess, beware of error; distinguish self-indulgence from duty; be careful to do nothing but what is right.” In a time like the present, to refrain from rash judgments, to admit no evil exaggeration, but only to feel and act just as a high-minded, moral, and religious man is justified in feeling and acting, is no slight task. All the more should we watch our impulses, and rule them by correct principles. Are you tempted to say, as I heard a man say in his boundless indignation, “Baltimore ought to be shelled till every house is in ashes, to avenge the insult it has offered the country; and then its whole territory should be sown with salt, as a warning for the future”? Pause, and think what it is to shell a city of two hundred and twenty-five thousand inhabitants, two-thirds of whom are women and children, and with fire and sword blot out their homes for ever. You will quickly retreat and repent your hasty ebullition; as, indeed, you would never have done anything of the sort, had it been left to your decision. You will say, “Let twenty federal regiments march through Baltimore, harming no person who behaves himself, but instantly shooting dead every man who offers overt opposition to their passage. That will be quite enough.” But there is an inconsiderateness, a cruelty, in these sweeping speeches, very pernicious even when they are merely speeches. Say not, “The South ought to be wiped from the face of the earth.” Cool down the generous passion that is flaming so much too high, and soberly look at the facts. The millions of the South are members of the one human family of God, with the same faculties, rights, affections, hopes, and fears as ourselves. They are our own countrymen, individually linked to us by the dearest ties of love and blood, and bound up in one destiny with us. Not one in twenty of their entire number is in the least degree directly responsible for the outrages that have sprung this immense exigency upon us. Pampered with indulgence and vanity by the unfortunate nature of their inherited and fostered institutions; shut up in a proud ignorance by their isolated plantation-life, without any of that organized instantaneously diffusing intelligence which snows books and newspapers on our free cities and hamlets; at the mercy of the unprincipled demagogues who flatter and deceive and provoke them with monstrous compliments for themselves, and more monstrous slanders against the rest of the country; deludedly cherishing the deadly cancer and virus of slavery, as if it were the heart of their body politic; honestly thinking, that to gratify and feed fat their haughty lust and sloth at the expense of a downtrodden and helpless race of inferiors is to exhibit the highest style of civilization yet attained on earth; unsuspiciously believing that one half of the North and West are set with diabolical energy of malice on destroying their patriarchal fulfillment of the precepts of the Bible, the other half ready at any instant to fight unto the death to prevent the departure of this abolitionist crusade against the Southern paradise,—seeing these facts, we cannot but recognize large excuses for them, and feel more sorrowful than revengeful. We cannot honorably nourish ferocious sentiments towards them, however copiously their colossal Sin causes them to nourish such sentiments towards us. We cannot, with a spark of Christianity in our hearts, cry “havoc!” for a war of extermination on them. We must, it is true, oppose the most uncompromising resistance to their insolent pretensions, and rally in overwhelming power for the everlasting suppression of their criminal designs. But, while doing this, let not the spirit of hatred and vengeance run riot. Let us commiserate their general ignorance and domestic peril, correct their errors, sympathize with their misfortunes, pity their infatuation, exercise towards them the utmost forbearance that is reconcilable with the honor and safety of the Government, and that squares with the claims of moral law.

And now, contemplating still further our civil war as seen from the pulpit, it is particularly timely to utter one word more of caution; and that is, Let there be among us no illegal manifestations of antipathy towards individuals whose sympathies run counter to the common tide. Every good citizen, every true patriot, every Christian man, every person of high-toned independence and sympathetic catholicity, should sternly frown on every attempt, on whatever pretext made, at a violent interference with the most unrestricted exercise of his civil rights by any member of the community. The mobocratic spirit is the deadliest enemy of republican institutions; the most ruinous and fatal element that can gain admission into a city or a state. It has been allowed altogether too frequent and too large an entrance in many parts of America. Good men, just and true men, who respect the law, who love their country, and pray for her peace and welfare, should spare no pains to prevent the sufferance of a mob, on any excuse whatever; to put down, and punish remorsely, every overt instance of the riotous disposition. There is no permanent safety else. Permit a mob of gentlemen, in violation of law, genteelly to put down what they dislike to-day, to-morrow a mob of ruffians may reverse the tables, and, in violation of law, more harshly suppress what they dislike. Invoke public odium now against a despised minority whom you hate, saying to Judge Lynch and his myrmidons, “at them!” and a little later some epidemic revolution of public feeling, giving them the popular support, may place you among the hated few, and the coercing crowd whom you taught the evil lesson will tear your house down and mutilate your body in the streets. A mob and its anarchical rule should never be tolerated in a free country like ours. It is fraught with the direst retribution, sure to burst at last. Look at Baltimore,—given over to bullies for weeks, made despicable in the eyes of the earth, every peaceful avocation paralyzed, shuddering with terror at herself, her best citizens fleeing every way in dismay. Twenty-five years ago, had a shower of bullets been promptly planted in the skulls of three or four hundred of the “Roughs” of that notorious locality, the woeful spectacle of today would have been spared.

New England, perhaps, has seen fewer and slighter manifestations of this lawless and tyrannical spirit than most other parts of the country. God grant that she may see still less of it in the future! Especially in a crisis like the present, when the provocatives to it are often so aggravating, let us scrupulously guard against its outbreaks. We take up arms in the sacred name of Law, against rebels who repudiate their oaths and trample Law under foot. We complain of the slave-power, that it is accustomed to mob unprotected strangers and odious citizens. Let us not imitate what we have condemned, and dishonor our position and watchword by a bitter intolerance of dissent from our views, by petty persecutions of helpless individuals. If a newspaper aids and comforts treason, do not stone its office; do not compel its affrighted editor hypocritically to wave from his window the flag to which he did not spontaneously cling. Simply take your names from its subscription-list, and leave its recreant publisher to the condign contempt of the public, and the infamy that waits in the verdict of history. That is enough. In the name of moral decency, touch him not. Your blood may burn at hearing a man express his sympathy for traitors, his adhesion to slavery and subserviency, his murderous hostility to his own Government; but let a wall of magnanimous scorn protect him. He stands almost alone, a malignant alien, amidst millions of glowing patriots. Harm not a hair of his head. If any glory is to be won in the tyrannizing of maddened multitudes over obnoxious individuals, singled out in their estrangement and helplessness, let it be monopolized by the South, where civilization is nearer on a level with such deeds than it is in Boston,—the example of some very honorable men to the contrary notwithstanding! The law should take care of active traitors; but, for the sake of civil order, honor, our good name, I hope not a finger will be lifted anywhere in New England against the person or property of the talking malecontents, of whom it were no less than a miracle if there were not some among us.

The foregoing points I have dwelt on somewhat at length, because they are in particular danger of being overlooked or forgotten in the rushing flood of patriotic excitement which is carrying us all away. The points remaining to be considered may be treated more briefly, since their conclusions have already been reached by the general mind, and the hearts of people are fully wrought up to the pitch of their requirements. Deploring the vast evil of war, but accepting it as a necessity under the conditions; resolving to fight, not in hate, to wreak vengeance on our foes, but in a sentiment of obligation, to uphold the national life; taking as a motto, “The inviolable supremacy of law and order,” and setting our faces against every form and instance of mob-rule,—what next is our duty, as it appears when looked at from the pulpit?

Certain of the justice of our cause, we must rally around the Government in loving allegiance, and face the onset with invincible will. We have with us, as we advance, the moral truth of the case, the intrinsic strength of the country, the sympathy of civilized man. How can we falter, or entertain a single misgiving? The adversaries against whom we stand arrayed are triply in the wrong,—wrong in the cause they fight for, wrong in their unprovoked commencement of the war, wrong in the unprincipled measures and spirit of their policy. After virtually monopolizing the legislative direction and official patronage of the country for the greater part of fifty years, their party was fairly defeated at the ballot-box, to which they had willingly appealed under a common obligation with us. They instantly refuse to abide the result; swear they will never submit to the rule of their opponents; and fly to arms, determined to establish an oligarchy of their own to perpetuate their darling institution of negro-slavery. Thus they are traitorous rebels at the first start. Then they open the war, in the face of unparalleled forbearance, by defying the Federal authority, breaking its laws, trampling its ensign ignominiously under foot, firing on its unarmed vessels, and taking forcible possession of its exposed fortresses. Finally, having begun their career with gigantic feats of deliberate perjury, theft, and treachery, and followed it up by the establishment of a reign of terror over their own dissenting citizens, they propose, in sublime scorn of the law of nations, to complete it by wholesale piracy. We, on the other hand, are triply fortified in right. We fight for the Constitution and the Flag, the historic position and equal laws our fathers purchased for us at such cost, when our friends were few and our land was feeble. We stand for our whole country against the sectional plotters, who, in their enormous vanity, their mistaken hate, and their fatal infatuation, have precipitated the strife upon us in headlong aggression. We did not, in time of peace, steal from our unsuspecting enemies the money, guns, and powder with which we intended to destroy them as soon as we were in readiness for hostilities. With the money our own industry has earned, with the weapons our own hands have forged, with fair warning given, we frankly take the field to protect the archives, enforce the laws, and maintain the integrity of our country. The sentiment of Christendom levels its chivalrous lances with us against the arrogant allies of despotism and night in this insane insurrection of slavery and conceit against the open ballot-box of the nineteenth century. When we strike, if strike we must, every blow will fall in the interests of morality and civilization, God and universal liberty. How, therefore, can we fail to put a cheerful courage on, unite as one man, be willing to make every needful sacrifice without a murmur, and swear now to put this controversy through to a permanent solution?

If this be really done, the result will amply remunerate the cost. We shall be free then indeed; no longer this ulcer gnawing at the vitals of our political system; no longer this endless agitation and ever-irritating debate between North and South; no longer this dark stain on the star-sprinkled azure of our banner, greeted then with thrills of reverential delight as it dallies with every breeze under heaven. It is time our organic law and public front were made consistent with that proud manifesto of impartial freedom we have so long flaunted in the eyes of the nations; high time our Federal altar were no longer suffered to be a block on which to sell into bondage a wronged and helpless race. And things begin to look as if that consummation were at hand. The three stages of such a prodigious crime as that which the Slave States are blindly seeking to spread and perpetuate are reckless indulgence, judicial madness, overwhelming retribution. The first they have long known; the second has now set in; the third may be approaching. When the excited secessionists of Richmond, a few days since, gathered around their sculptured Washington, and placed a black man astride the solemn image of the Father of his Country, there was a condign significance in the act. They make the keeping of slaves override every thing else. It is time this fanaticism ceased, and our people were left at peace to work out the gradual perfecting of the Republic. This radical evil once extirpated, we should be repaid for all. How would our prosperity mount up, rejoicing as a strong man to run a race! How would the Genius of our country put on her beautiful garments, and arise and shine! Let us, therefore, swear together, that the days of our national slave-holding, the sole cause of our troubles, shall soon be numbered. Then the sundered States now hurled into this crucible of civil war, and soon to be compositely molten down in the fiery struggle, touched by the common memory of Washington, shall fuse into a finer metal than before; from which, moulded by his typical example, shall emerge, when returning peace and union unmask the result, our disenthralled and glorified America, a stupendous statue of Liberty.

One compensation, well-nigh sufficient to balance the evil of this convulsion, and the trouble it has put us to thus far, we already have. I refer to the glorious spectacle of the hour,—the spontaneous unanimity and uprising of our patriotic countrymen from seaboard to prairie. Unable to accept the doctrine that war is a useful safety-valve, a wholesome tonic, a hygeian gale blowing over the corruptions of peace; viewing it rather as an awful generator of bad blood, a destructive discharge of hostile passion creatively re-acting on its own source, a poisonous blast on those social and industrial virtues which most do grow in pacific times,—I should yet be ashamed not to perceive, with a heightened pulse, the indemnifying impetus given to many noble qualities of our nature by the surprising tocsin that in these last weeks has been alarming the quiet air of New England. The phrases about loyalty, the banner, love of country, which were fast becoming vapid and empty, have been suddenly vitalized,—have grown almost explosive with inspiration. The precious privileges, which we had enjoyed so uninterruptedly as to forget their sumless price, throw off their rusty common-places, burnish themselves, and put on value and splendor in our eyes. The grand principles of our higher humanity cease to be verbal formularies, and become electric truths. A little while ago, it seemed sentimental poetry, now it is solid sense and fact, which is embodied in the lines:—

“Brethren there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
‘This is my own, my native land!’
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand?”

We were absorbed in money-getting, in office-seeking, in our personal rivalries, cares, and plans. We thought we were a dry, plodding, prosaic tribe. When lo! At the first volley of the criminal cannon around Sumter, the first flap of our insulted flagon the breeze of war, a regenerate people started into heroism and beauty. Women and children contended which should be foremost in the bounding alacrity with which they proffered their services. In the public schools, a little standard hung beside the inkstand on every boy’s desk. From our valleys and hillsides, cities and farms, rich and poor, sprang up a race we had not dreamed of, emulous of sacrifice and danger, capacious of exalted sentiment; while, all the way from the White Hills to the Mississippi River, every heart throbbed with magnanimous emotion, and every tongue cried, ‘Sweet and charming is it to die for one’s country!” And far in the van of this electrifying outburst, this irresistible carnival of enthusiasm, our dear old Massachusetts, again, on the same April day, plucks the earliest laurel, dripping with the blood of her boys, and fondly lays it on her breast. With such a spirit prevailing, success must be as swift as it is sure. Because we do not carry bowie-knives and fight duels, they have fancied us cowards, have they? In the indomitable bearing of our forlorn few, beleaguered in the infamous streets of that unhappy city by thousands of brutal ruffians, let them read an earnest of the unconquerable tenacity with which, in the hour of trial, those regiments will fight, every man of whom, wherever he follows the stars and stripes, carries in his heart the idealized equivalents of Plymouth Rock, Faneuil Hall, and Bunker Hill.

Under the circumstances similar to those so finely described by Campbell, as seen by him off the coast of England, I once saw one of our proud war-ships riding at anchor of a summer afternoon. Behind her, poised on the horizon, shone a gorgeous rainbow, flushing through tackle, shrouds, and stays, wrapping every part of her form with magic fire, steeped in whose dyes the star-spangled banner floated aloft in pre-eminent glory. That rainbow typed the promise of Heaven; that ship and flag, the victorious strength of the American Government, destined to sail the seas in triumph till time shall be no more.