The Presidential Election

FOR the first time since the American Presidency was created, the American people have entered upon a Presidential election in time of great war. Even the election of 1812 forms no exception to this assertion, as the second contest with England did not begin until the summer of that year, when the conditions of the political contest were already understood, and it was known that Mr. Madison would be reëlected, in spite of the opposition of the Federalists, and notwithstanding the disaffection of those Democrats who took De Witt Clinton for their leader. Mr. Madison, indeed, is supposed to have turned “ war man,” against his own convictions, in order to conciliate the “ Young Democracy" of 1812, who had resolved upon having a fight with England,—and in that way to have secured for supporters men who would have prevented his reëlection, had he defied them. The trouble that we had with France at the close of the last century undoubtedly had some effect in deciding the fourth Presidential contest adversely to the Federalists; but though it was illustrated by some excellent naval fighting, it can hardly be spoken of as a war : certainly, it was not a great war. The Mexican War had been brought to a triumphant close before the election of 1848 was opened. Of the nineteen Presidential elections which the country has known, sixteen were held in times of profound peace,—as Indian wars went for nothing; and the other three were not affected as to their decision by the contests we had had with France or Mexico, or by that with England, which was in its first stage when Mr. Madison was reëlected. Every Presidential election, from that of 1788 to that of 1860, found us a united people, with every State taking some part in the canvas. Even South Carolina in 1860 was not clearly counted out of the fight until after Mr. Lincoln’s success had been announced, and rebellion had been resolved upon.

But all is now changed. The twentieth Presidential election finds us not only at war, but engaged in a civil war of such magnitude that even the most martial nations of Europe are surprised at the numbers who take part in it, and at its cost. The election is to be carried, and perhaps decided, amid the din of arms, with a million of voters in the land and sea forces of the two parties. This is so new to us, that it would seem more like a dream than a reality, but that losses of life and high prices render the matter most painfully real. How to act under such circumstances might well puzzle us, were it not that the path of duty is pointed out by the spirit of patriotism. The election will have much effect on the operations of war, and those operations in their turn will have no light effect on the election. Our political action should be such as to strengthen the arm of Government; and the military action of Government should be such as to strengthen those who shall he engaged in affording it political support. Failure in the field would not lead to defeat at the polls, but it might so lessen the loyal majority that the public sentiment of the country would be but feebly represented by the country’s political action. What happened in 1862 might happen again in 1864, and with much more disastrous effect on the fortunes of the Republic. In 1862 there was much discontent, because of the belief that Government had not done all it could have done to bring about the overthrow of the Rebels. Irritated by the reverses which had befallen our arms in Virginia, and knowing that nothing had been withheld that was necessary to the effective waging of the war, thousands of men refrained from voting, half-inclined as they were to see if the Democrats could not do that which others had failed to do. We are not discussing the justice of the opinion which then prevailed, but simply state a fact; and the consequence of the discontent that existed was that the Democrats came very near obtaining control of the popular branch of Congress. They made heavy gains in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other States; but that this result was not the effect of hostility to the national cause was made clearly apparent a year later, when the supporters of that cause won a series of brilliant political victories in the very States which had either pronounced for the Democrats in ’62, or had given but small Republican majorities. The loyal majority iu Ohio in 1863 was something that approached to the fabulous, because then the violent members of the Opposition, encouraged by what had taken place a year earlier, had the audacity to place Mr. Vallandigham in nomination for the office of Governor. Had that individual been elevated to the post for which he was nominated, Ohio must have been arrayed in open opposition to the Federal Government, almost as decisively so as South Carolina or Virginia. Had he been defeated by a small majority, his party would have taken arms against the State Government, and Ohio, compelled to fight for the maintenance of social order at home, would have done nothing for the national cause. But the majority against Mr. Vallandigham was upward of one hundred thousand; and to attempt resistance to a Government so potently supported as that of which Mr. Brough was the head was something that surpassed even the audacity of the men who had had the bad courage to select Mr. Vallandigham for their leader, in the hope of being able to make him the head of the State. That which was done in Ohio, not seven months since, should be done in the nation not seven months hence, if we would have peace preserved at home, and all our available means directed to the work of destroying the armies of the Southern Confederacy, and to the seizure of its ports and principal towns. The national popular majority should be so great in support of the war as to prevent any faction from thinking of resistance to the people’s will as a possibility. The moral effect of a mighty political victory in November would be almost incalculable, both at home and in Europe; and in the Confederacy it would put an end to all such hopes of ultimate success as may rest upon the belief that we are a divided people.

The Democratic party should not be restored to power, happen what may in the course of the present campaign. This we say, not because we believe the Democratic masses wanting in loyalty or patriotism, but because we are of opinion that there should be no change either in the position of parties or in the personnel of the Government. There ought to be no doubt as to the soundness of the views that are held by most Democrats. They love their country, and they desire to see the Rebels subdued. They have the same interest, considered as citizens, in the triumph of the Federal cause that we all have. They have contributed their share of men to the fleets and armies of the Republic, and to the rolls on which are inscribed the names of the gallant dead. Many of our best generals formerly belonged to the Democratic organization, and they may still hold Democratic opinions on common politics. Why, then, object to the Democratic party being replaced in power ? Because that would be a restoration, and it is a truism that a restoration is of all things the worst thing that can befall a country in times of civil commotion. If it could be settled beyond controversy that the Democratic party, should it be restored, would be governed by those of its members who have done their duty to their country in every way, no objection could be made to its coming again into possession of the National Government. But we know that nothing of the kind would take place. The most violent members of the Democratic party would govern that party, and dictate its policy and course of action, were it to triumph in the pending political contest. We wish for no better proof of this than is afforded by the conduct of Democratic conventions for some time past. The last convention of the NewHampshire Democracy gave utterance to sentiments not essentially differing from those which were proclaimed by the supporters of Mr. Vallandigham in Ohio. Unwarned by the fate of the Ohio Democrats, the representatives of the NewHampshire Democracy assumed a position that virtually pledged their State to make war on the Federal Government, should they succeed in electing Mr. Harrington, their candidate for Governor. The issue was distinctly made, and the people of New Hampshire, by a much larger majority than has usually marked the result of their State elections since the Civil War began, reëlected Mr. Gillmore, who owed his first term of office to the Legislature’s action: so great was the change wrought in one year. This shows that some of the Democratic voters are not prepared to follow their leaders to destruction. So was it in Connecticut. The Democratic convention in that State exhibited a very strong feeling of disloyalty, but, the people rebuked its members by reëlecting Governor Buckingham by a majority twice as large as that which he received last year. Here we have proofs, that, while the men who manage the Democratic party are prepared to go all lengths in opposition to the Federal Government, they cannot carry all their ordinary followers with them, when they unhesitatingly avow their principles and purpose. If they are so rabid, when engaged in action that is simply preliminary to local elections, what might not be expected from them, should they find themselves intrusted with the charge of the National Government ? They would then behave in the most intolerant manner, and would introduce into this country a system of proscription quite as bad as anything of the kind that was known to the Romans as one of the most frightful consequences of their great civil contests. This would lead to reaction, and every Presidential election might be followed by deeds that would make our country a by-word, a hissing, and a reproach among the nations. There would be an end to all those fine hopes that are entertained that we shall speedily recover from the effects of the war, let peace once be restored. Prosperity would never return to the land, or would return only under the rule of some military despot, whose ascendency would gladly be seen and supported by a people weary of uncertainty and danger, and craving order above all things, — as the French people submitted to the rule of Napoleon III., because they believed him to he the man best qualified to protect themselves and their property against the designs of the Socialists. Our constitutional polity would give way to a cannonarchy, as every quietly disposed person would prefer the arbitrary government of one man to the organization of anarchy. If we should escape from both despotism and anarchy, it would be at the price of national destruction, livery great State would “ set up for itself,” while smaller States that are neighbors would form themselves into confederacies. There would come to exist a dozen nations where but one now exists,—for we leave the Southern Confederacy aside in this consideration. That Confederacy, however, would become the greatest power in North America. Not only would it hold together, but it would at once acquire the Border States, where slavery would be more than restored, for there it would be made as powerful an interest as it was in South Carolina and Mississippi but four years ago. War has welded the Southern Confederacy together, and in face of our breaking-up its rulers would have the strongest possible inducement to keep their Republic united, because they would then hope to conquer most of the Free States, and to confer upon them the “ blessings ” of the servile system of labor.

It is sometimes said, that, if the Democratic party should resume the rule of this nation, the Confederates, or Rebels, would signify their readiness to return into the Union, on the simple condition that things should be allowed to assume the forms they bore prior to Mr. Lincoln’s election. They rebelled against the men who came into power through the political decision that was made in 1860; and, the American people having reversed that decision by restoring the Democracy, the cause of their rebellion having been removed, rebellion itself would cease as of course. Were this view of the subject indisputably sound, it would ill become the American to surrender to the men who assume that the decision of an election, this way or that, affords sufficient reason for a resort to arms. We should hold our existence as a nation by the basest of tenures, were we to admit the monstrous doctrine that only one party is competent to govern the Republic, and that there is an appeal from the decision of the ballot to that of the bayonet. There never existed a great people so craven as to make such an admission ; and were we to set the example of making it, we should justify all that has been said adversely to us by domestic traitors and foreign foes. We should prove that we were unfit to enjoy that greatest of all public blessings, constitutional freedom, by surrendering it at the demand of a faction, merely that we might live in security, and enjoy the property we had accumulated. Ancient history mentions a people who were so fond of their ease that they placed all power in the hands of their slaves, on condition that tire latter should not meddle with those pleasures to the unbroken pursuit of which they purposed devoting all their means and time. The slaves soon became masters, and the masters slaves. We should fare as badly as the Volsinians, were we to place all power in the hands of slaveholders, who then would own some millions of white bondmen, far inferior in every manly quality to those darkfaced chattels from among whom the Union has recruited some of its bravest and most unselfish champions. But there is no ground, none whatever, for believing that the Rebels would cease to be Rebels, if there should be a Democratic restoration effected. Not even the election of Mr. Buchanan to a second Presidential term would lead them to abandon their purpose : arid he was their most useful tool in 1860, and without his assistance they could not have made one step in the road to rebellion, or ruin. Their purpose is to found a new nation, as they have never hesitated to avow, with a frankness that is as commendable as the cause in which it is evinced is abominable. They would be glad to see a Democrat chosen our next President, because they would expect from him an acknowledgment of their “independence”; but they would no more lay down their arms at his entreaty than they would at the command of a President of Republican opinions. Their arms can be forced from their hands, but there exists no man who could, from any position, induce them to surrender, or come back into the Union on any terms. They mean to abide the wager of battle, and are more likely to be moved from their purpose by the bold actions of General Grant than by the blandest words of the smoothest-tongued Democrat in America. To any mere persuader, no matter what his place or his opinions, they would turn an ear as deaf as that of the adder, — refusing to listen to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely.

As there should be no change made in the political character of the Government, so there should be none in the men who compose it. To place power in new hands, at a time like the present, would be as unwise as it would be to raise a new army for the purpose of fighting the numerous, well-trained, and zealous force which the Rebels have organized with the intention of making a desperate effort to reëstablish their affairs. There is no reason for supposing that a change would give us wiser or better men, and it is certain that they would be inexperienced men, should they all be as many Solomons or Solo us. As we are situated, it is men of experience that we require to administer the Government; and out of the present Administration it is impossible to find men of the kind of experience that is needed at this crisis of the nation’s career. The errors into which we fell in the early days of the contest were the effect of want of experience and it would be but to provide ibr their repetition, were we to call a new Administration into existence. The people understand this, and hence the very general expression of opinion in favor of the reëlection of President Lincoln, whose training through four most terrible years — years such as no other President ever knew — will have qualified him to carry on the Government during a second term to the satisfaction of all unselfish men. Mr. Lincoln’s honesty is beyond question, and we need an honest man at the head of the nation now more than ever. That the Rebels object to him is a recommendation in the eyes of loyal men. The substitution of a new man would not dispose them to submission, and they would expect to profit from that inevitable change of policy which would follow from a change of men. As to “the one-term principle,” we never held it in much regard ; and we are less disposed to approve it now than we should have been, had peace been maintained. Were the President elected for six or eight years, it might be wise to amend the Constitution so as to prevent the reëlection of any man ; but while the present arrangement shall exist, it would not be wise to insist upon a complete change of Government every four years. To hold out the Presidency as a prize to be struggled for by new men at every national election is to increase the troubles of the country. Among the causes of the Civil War the ambition to be made President must be reckoned. Every politician has carried a term at the White House in his portfolio, as every French conscript carries a marshal’s bâton in his knapsack ; and the disappointments of so many aspirants swelled the number of the disaffected to the proportions of an army, counting all who expected office as the consequence of this man’s or that man’s elevation to the Presidency. Were there no other reason for desiring the reëlection of President Lincoln, the fact that it would be the firststep toward a return to the rule that obtained during the first half-century of our national existence under the existing Constitution should suffice to make us all advocates of his nomination for a second term. That the Baltimore Convention will meet next month, and that it will place Mr. Lincoln once more before the American people as a candidate for their suffrages, are facts now as fully established as anything well can be that depends upon the future ; and that he will be reëlected admits of no doubt. The popular voice designates him as the man of the time and the occasion, and the action of the Convention will be nothing beyond a formal process, that shall give regular expression to a public sentiment which is too strong to be denied, and which will be found of irresistible force.