150 Years of The Atlantic October 2006

Politics

This is the ninth in a series of archival excerpts in honor of the magazine’s 150th anniversary. This installment is introduced by James Bennet, the editor of The Atlantic.
American Civilization
April 1862
By Ralph Waldo Emerson

As the Civil War ground on, and the fate of the young nation hung in the balance, Ralph Waldo Emerson argued vehemently for a federal emancipation of the slaves. “Morality,” above all else, he asserted, “is the object of government.” He lauded President Lincoln for his principled moves in that direction.

Emancipation is the demand of civilization. That is a principle; everything else is an intrigue …

The end of all political struggle is to establish morality as the basis of all legislation. It is not free institutions, ’t is not a republic, ’t is not a democracy, that is the end—no, but only the means. Morality is the object of government. We want a state of things in which crime shall not pay. This is the consolation on which we rest in the darkness of the future and the afflictions of to-day, that the government of the world is moral, and does forever destroy what is not …

President Lincoln has proposed to Congress that the Government shall coöperate with any State that shall enact a gradual abolishment of Slavery. In the recent series of national successes, this Message is the best. It marks the happiest day in the political year. The American Executive ranges itself for the first time on the side of freedom. If Congress has been backward, the President has advanced. This state-paper is the more interesting that it appears to be the President’s individual act, done under a strong sense of duty. He speaks his own thought in his own style. All thanks and honor to the Head of the State!

Volume 9, No. 54, pp. 502–511

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