The Negro and the Nation: A History of American Slavery and Enfranchisement

By George S. Merriam | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XL
LOOKING FORWARD

IT is difficult to write history, but it is impossible to write prophecy. We can no more tell what lies before us than the Fathers of the Republic could foresee the future a century ago. They little guessed that slavery, which seemed hastening to its end, would take new vigor from an increase of its profits,--that, stimulated by the material gain, a propaganda of religious and political defense would spring up,--that a passionate denunciation and a passionate defense would gradually inflame the whole country,--that meanwhile the absorption of the mass of citizens in private pursuits would blind them to the evil and peril, and prevent that disinterested, comprehensive statesmanship which ought to have assumed as a common burden the emancipation of the slaves,--that the situation would be exasperated by hostility of the sections and complicated by clashing theories of the natignal Union,--that only by the bitter and costly way of war would a settlement be reached,--and that emancipation, being wrought by force and not by persuasion, would leave the master class "convinced against its will," and a deep gulf between the races, whose spanning is still an uncertain matter,--all this was hidden from the eyes of the wisest, a century ago. So is hidden from our eyes the outworking of the century to come.

But the essential principles of the situation, the true ideals, the perils,--these were seen of old. Jefferson wrote, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is a God of justice." And Washington said," I can already foresee that

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