A Call to My Country-Women

IN the newspapers and magazines you shall see many poems—written by women who meekly term themselves weak, and modestly profess to represent only the weak among their sex — tunefully discussing the duties which the weak owe to their country in days like these. The invariable conclusion is, that, though they cannot fight, because they are not men, — or go down to nurse the sick and wounded, because they have children to take care of, — or write effectively, because they do not know how, — or do any great and heroic thing, because they have not the ability, — they can pray; and they generally do close with a melodious and beautiful prayer. Now praying is a good thing. It is, in fact, the very best thing in the world to do, and there is no danger of our having too much of it; but if women, weak or strong, consider that praying is all they can or ought to do for their country, and so settle down contented with that, they make as great a mistake as if they did not pray at all. True, women cannot fight, and there is no call for any great number of female nurses; notwithstanding this, I believe, that, to-day, the issue of this war depends quite as much upon American women as upon American men, — and depends, too, not upon the few who write, but upon the many who do not. The women of the Revolution were not only Mrs. Adams, Mrs. Reed, and Mrs. Schuyler, but the wives of the farmers and shoemakers and blacksmiths everywhere. It is not Mrs. Stowe, or Mrs. Howe, or Miss Stevenson, or Miss Dix, alone, who is to save the country, but the thousands upon thousands who are at this moment darning stockings, tending babies, sweeping floors. It is to them I speak. It is they whom I wish to get hold of; for in their hands lies slumbering the future of this nation.

The women of to-day have not come up to the level of to-day. They do not stand abreast with its issues. They do not rise to the height of its great argument. I do not forget what you have done. I have beheld, O Dorcases, with admiration and gratitude, the coats and garments, the lint and bandages, which you have made. Tender hearts, if you could have finished the war with your needles, it would have been finished long ago; but stitching does not crash rebellion, does not annihilate treason, or hew traitors in pieces before the Lord. Excellent as far as it goes, it stops fearfully short of the goal. This ought ye to do, but there are other things which you ought not to leave undone. The war cannot be finished by sheets and pillow-cases. Sometimes I am tempted to believe that it cannot be finished till we have flung them all away. When I read of the Rebels fighting bare-headed, bare-footed, haggard, and unshorn, in rags and filth, — fighting bravely, heroically, successfully,—I am ready to make a burnt-offering of our stacks of clothing. I feel and fear that we must come down, as they have done, to a recklessness of all incidentals, down to the rough and rugged fastnesses of life, down to the very gates of death itself, before we shall be ready and worthy to win victories. Yet it is not so, for the hardest fights the earth has ever known have been made by the delicate-handed and purple-robed. So, in the ultimate analysts, it is neither gold-lace nor rags that overpower obstacles, but the fiery soul that consumes both in the intensity of its furnace-heat, bending impossibilities to the ends of its passionate purpose.

This soul of fire is what I wish to see kindled in our women, — burning white and strong and steady, through all weakness, timidity, vacillation, treachery in Church or State or press or parlor, scorching, blasting, annihilating whatsoever loveth and maketh a lie, — extinguished by no tempest of defeat, no drizzle of delay, but glowing on its steadfast path till it shall have cleared through the abomination of our desolation a highway for the Prince of Peace.

O my country-women, I long to see you stand under the time and hear it up in your strong hearts, and not need to be borne up through it. I wish you to stimulate, and not crave stimulants from others. I wish you to be the consolers, the encouragers, the sustainers, and not tremble in perpetual need of consolation and encouragement. When men’s brains are knotted and their brows corrugated with fearful looking for and hearing of financial crises, military disasters, and any and every form of national calamity consequent upon the war, come you out to meet them, serene and smiling and unafraid. And let your smile be no formal distortion of your lips, but a bright ray from the sunshine in your heart. Take not acquiescently, but joyfully, the spoiling of your goods. Not only look poverty in the face with high disdain, but embrace it with gladness and welcome. The loss is but for a moment; the gain is for all time. Go farther than this. Consecrate to a holy cause not only the incidentals of life, but life itself. Father, husband, child, — I do not say, Give them up to toil, exposure, suffering, death, without a murmur ; — that implies reluctance. I rather say, Urge them to the offering ; fill them with sacred fury ; fire them with irresistible desire; strengthen them to heroic will. Look not on details, the present, the trivial, the fleeting aspects of our conflict, but fix your ardent gaze on its eternal side. Be not resigned, but rejoicing. Be spontaneous and exultant. Be large and lofty. Count it all joy that you are reckoned worthy to suffer in a grand and righteous cause. Give thanks evermore that you were born in this time ; and because it is dark, be you the light of the world.

And follow the soldier to the battlefield with your spirit. The great army of letters that marches Southward with every morning sun is a powerful engine of war. Fill them with tears and sighs, lament separation and suffering, dwell on your loneliness and fears, mourn over the dishonesty of contractors and the incompetency of leaders, doubt if the South will ever be conquered, and foresee financial ruin, and you will damp the powder and dull the swords that ought to deal death upon the foe. Write as tenderly as you will. In camp, the roughest man idealizes his far-off home, and every word of love uplifts him to a lover. But let your tenderness unfold its sunny side, and keep the shadows for His pity who knows the end from the beginning, and whom no foreboding can dishearten. Glory in your tribulation. Show your soldier that his unflinching courage, his undying fortitude, are your crown of rejoicing. Incite him to enthusiasm by your inspiration. Make a mock of your discomforts. Be unwearying in details of the little interests of home. Fill your letters with kittens and Canaries, with baby’s shoes, and Johnny’s sled, and the old cloak which you have turned into a handsome gown. Keep him posted in all the villagegossip, the lectures, the courtings, the sleigh-rides, and the singing-schools. Bring out the good points of the world in strong relief. Tell every sweet and brave and pleasant and funny story you can think of. Show him that you clearly apprehend that all this warfare means peace, and that a dastardly peace would pave the way for speedy, incessant, and more appalling warfare. Help him to bear his burdens by showing him howelastic you are under yours. Hearten him, enliven him, tone him up to the true hero-pitch. Hush your plaintive Miserere, accept the nation’s pain for penance, and commission every Northern breeze to bear a Te Deum laudamus.

Under God, the only question, as to whether this war shall be conducted to a shameful or an honorable close, is not of men or money or material resource. In these our superiority is unquestioned. As Wellington phrased it, there is hard pounding; but we shall pound the longest, if only our hearts do not fail us. Women need not beat their pewter spoons into bullets, for there are plenty of bullets without them. It is not whether our soldiers shall fight a good fight ; they have played the man on a hundred battle-fields. It is not whether officers are or are not competent; generals have blundered nations into victory since the world began. It is whether this people shall have virtue to endure to the end, — to endure, not starving, not cold, but the pangs of hope deferred, of disappointment and uncertainty, of commerce deranged and outward prosperity checked. Will our vigilance to detect treachery and our perseverance to punish it hold out ? If we stand firm, we shall be saved, though so as by fire. If we do not, we shall fall, and shall richly deserve to fall; and may God sweep us off from the face of the earth, and plant in our stead a nation with the hearts of men, and not of chickens!

O women, stand here in the breach, —for here you may stand powerful, invincible, I had almost said omnipotent. Rise now to the heights of a sublime courage, — for the hour has need of you. When the first ball smote the rocky sides of Sumter, the rebound thrilled from shore to shore, and waked the slumbering hero in every human soul. Then every eye flamed, every lip was touched with a live coal from the sacred altar, every form dilated to the stature of the Golden Age. Then we felt in our veins the pulse of immortal youth. Then all the chivalry of the ancient days, all the heroism, all the self-sacrifice that shaped itself into noble living, came back to us, poured over us, swept away the dross of selfishness and deception and petty scheming, and Patriotism rose from the swelling wave stately as a goddess. Patriotism, that had been to us but a dingy and meaningless antiquity, took on a new form, a new mien, a countenance divinely fair and forever young, and received once more the homage of our hearts. Was that a childish outburst of excitement, or the glow of an aroused principle ? Was it a puerile anger, or a manly indignation ? Did we spring up startled pigmies, or girded giants ? If the former, let us veil our faces, and march swiftly (and silently) to merciful forgetfulness. If the latter, shall we not lay aside every weight, and this besetting sin of despondency, and run with patience the race set before us ?

A true philosophy and a true religion make the way possible to us. The Most, High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will; and He never yet willed that a nation strong in means and battling for the right should be given over to a nation weak and battling for the wrong. Nations have their future—reward and penalty — in this world; and it is as certain as God lives that Providence and the heaviest battalions will prevail. We have had reverses, but no misfortune hath happened unto us but such as is common unto nations. Country has been sacrificed to partisanship. Early love has fallen away, and lukewarmness has taken its place. Unlimited enthusiasm has given place to limited stolidity. Disloyalty, overawed at first into quietude, has lifted its head among us, and waxes wroth and ravening. There are dissensions at home worse than the guns of our foes. Some that did run well have faltered; some signal-lights have gone shamefully out, and some are lurid with a baleful glare. But unto this end were we born, and for this cause came we into the world. When shall greatness of soul stand forth, if not in evil times ? When the skies are fair and the seas smooth, all ships sail festively. But the clouds lower, the winds shriek, the waves boil, and immediately each craft shows its quality. The deep is strown with broken masts, parted keels, floating wrecks; but here and there a ship rides the raging sea, and flings defiance to the wind. She overlives the sea because she is sea-worthy. Not our eighty years of peace alone, but our two years of war are the touchstone of our character. We have rolled our Democracy as a sweet morsel under our tongue; we have gloried in the prosperity which it brought to the individual ; but if the comforts of men minister to the degradation of man, if Democracy levels down and does not level up, if our era of peace and plenty leaves us so feeble and frivolous, so childish, so impatient, so deaf to all that calls to us from the past and entreats us in the future, that we faint and fail under the stress of our one short effort, then indeed is our Democracy our shame and curse. Let us show now what manner of people we are. Let us be clear-sighted and far-sighted to see how great is the issue that hangs upon the occasion. It is not a mere military reputation that is at stake, not the decay of a generation’s commerce, not the determination of this or that party to power. It is the question of the world that we have been set to answer. In the great conflict of ages, the long strife between right and wrong, between progress and sluggardy, through the Providence of God we are placed in the van-guard. Three hundred years ago a world was unfolded for the battle-ground. Choice spirits came hither to level and intrench. Swords clashed and blood flowed, and the great reconnoissance was successfully made. Since then both sides have been gathering strength, marshalling forces, planting batteries, and to-day we stand in the thick of the fray. Shall we fail ? Men and women of America, will you fail ? Shall the cause go by default ? When a great Idea, that has been uplifted on the shoulders of generations, comes now to its Thermopylæ, its glory-gate, and needs only stout hearts for its strong hands,—when the eyes of a great multitude are turned upon you, and the fates of dumb millions in the silent future rest with you, — when the suffering and sorrowful, the lowly, whose immortal hunger for justice gnaws at their hearts, who blindly see, but keenly feel, by their God-given instincts, that somehow you are working out their salvation, and the high-born, monarchs in the domain of mind, who, standing far off, see with prophetic eye the two courses that lie before you, one to the Uplands of vindicated Right, one to the Valley of the Shadow of Death, alike fasten upon you their hopes, their prayers, their tears, — will you, for a moment’s bodily comfort and rest and repose, grind all these expectations and hopes between the upper and nether millstone? Will you fail the world in this fateful hour by your faint-heartedness ? Will you fail yourself, and put the knife to your own throat ? For the peace which you so dearly buy shall bring to you neither ease nor rest. You will but have spread a bed of thorns. Failure will write disgrace upon the brow of this generation, and shame will outlast the age. It is not with us as with the South. She can surrender without dishonor. She is the weaker power, and her success will be against the nature of things. Her dishonor lay in her attempt, not in its relinquishment. But we shall fail, not because of mechanics and mathematics, but because our manhood and womanhood weighed in the balance are found wanting. There are few who will not share in the sin. There are none who will not share in the shame. Wives, would you hold back your husbands ? Mothers, would you keep your sons ? From what? for what? From the doing of the grandest duty that ever ennobled man, to the grief of the greatest infamy that ever crushed him down. You would hold him back from prizes before which Olympian laurels fade, for a late before which a Helot slave might cower. His country in the agony of her death-struggle calls to him for succor. All the blood in all the ages, poured out for liberty, poured out for him, cries unto him from the ground. All that life has of noble, of heroic, beckons him forward. Death itself wears for him a golden crown. Ever since the world swung free from God’s hand, men have died, — obeying the blind fiat of Nature; but only once in a generation comes the sacrificial year, the year of jubilee, when men march lovingly to meet their fate and die for a nation's life. Holding back, we transmit to those that shall come after us a blackened waste. The little one that lies in his cradle will be accursed for our sakes. Every child will be base-born, springing from ignoble blood. We inherited a fair fame, and bays from a glorious battle; but for him is no background, no stand-point. His country will be a burden on his shoulders, a blush upon his cheek, a chain about his feet. There is no career for the future, but a weary effort, a long, a painful, a heavy-hearted struggle to lift the land out of its slough of degradation and set it once more upon a dry place.

Therefore let us have done at once and forever with paltry considerations, with talk of despondency and darkness. Let compromise, submission, and every form of dishonorable peace be not so much as named among us. Tolerate no coward’s voice or pen or eye. Wherever the serpent’s head is raised, strike it down. Measure every man by the standard of manhood. Measure country’s price by country’s worth, and country’s worth by country’s integrity. Let a cold, clear breeze sweep down from the mountains of life, and drive out these miasmas that befog and beguile the unwary. Around every hearthstone let sunshine gleam. In every home let fatherland have its altar and its fortress. From every household let words of cheer and resolve and highheartiness ring out, till the whole land is shining and resonant in the bloom of its awakening spring.