The Tragic Conflict: The Civil War and Reconstruction

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview

2
The Road to Disunion

Edward A. Pollard

The American people of the present generation were born in the belief that the Union of the States was destined to be perpetual. A few minds rose superior to this natal delusion; the early history of the Union itself was not without premonitions of decay and weakness; and yet it may be said that the belief in its permanency was, in the early part of the present generation, a popular and obstinate delusion that embraced the masses of the country.

The foundations of this delusion had been deeply laid in the early history of the country, and had been sustained by a false but ingenious prejudice. It was busily represented, especially by demagogues in the North, that the Union was the fruit of the Revolution of 1776 and had been purchased by the blood of our forefathers. No fallacy would have been more erroneous in fact, more insidious in its display, or more effective in addressing the passions of the multitude. The Revolution achieved our national independence, and the Union had no connection with it other than consequence in point of time. It was founded, as any other civil institution, in the exigencies and necessities of a certain condition of society, and had no other claim to popular reverence and attachment than what might be found in its own virtues.

But it was not only the captivating fallacy that the Union was hallowed by the blood of a revolution, and this false inspiration of reverence for it, that gave the popular idea of its power and permanency. Its political character was misunderstood by a large portion of the American people. The idea predominated in the North, and found toleration in the South, that the Revolution of '76, instead of securing the independence of thirteen States, had resulted in the establishment of a grand consolidated government to be under the absolute control of a numerical majority. The doctrine was successfully inculcated; it had some plausibility, and brought to its support an array of revolutionary names; but it was, nevertheless, in direct opposition to the terms of the Constitution -- the bond of the Union -- which

EDWARD A. POLLARD, "The First Year of the War," Southern History of the War, reprinted from the Richmond Corrected Edition ( New York, 1863), pp. 11-40.

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