Those who have studied the characteristics and idiosyncracies of the Northern people, and have observed their fondness for an affected enthusiasm, and their proneness to give way to gregarious impulses, however absurd and reprehensible, were not surprised at the alacrity with which the masses of even moderate men rushed into the war movement, at the piping of the war party, and at the appeal of the drum and fife. So soon as individuals found the throng tending that way, they rushed enthusiastically into what seemed the popular current; and the very men who but yesterday were loud in condemnation of the aggressive and incendiary purposes of the Republicans, to-day made amends for their tardy Unionism, by a precipitate enlistment in the ranks of the Administration.
It is the first step which costs. The peace party was a peace party no longer. A few consistent men remained, but the party disappeared for a period. Conservatism underwent almost a total eclipse. Opposed to war; averse to the principle of coercion; believing in the superiour efficacy of pacific over belligerent measures for restoring the Union; regretting every blow that was struck and every drop of blood that was shed in the contest, the party of the Constitution, of fraternal Union, of law, of order, and of peace, found itself compelled, first in one step, then in another, then in all, to support the war, to vote men and means for its vigorous prosecution, for sixty days, for ninety days, for the first campaign, and then, on and on, to a successful conclusion. They thought to bide their time, and to employ every opportunity that should offer in the interests of peace; but the opportunity never came; the fury of the war-storm, increasing as it progressed, and engulfing and carrying away everything in its course, swept down all who talked of peace. The vast patronage brought to the Administration made it omnipotent, and enabled it to appeal with effect to the passions alike of the avaricious, the ambitious, the adventurous of all sorts and conditions of men. As the costliness of the war increased, and the number of offices and the profitableness of contracts augmented, so its power in the country grew and waxed more and more irresistable.
We are not inclined to judge the peace party of the North too harshly. The arguments which led them to sanction and sustain the first measures of the Administration were such as could not well be resisted by a party believing in the inviolability of the Union, and the duty of suppressing all attempt at disruption. They were beguiled into the first belligerent measures by the conservative tone and pledges of Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward; and they were, moreover, deceived into the belief that prompt and vigorous steps were the surest means of preventing a protracted, expensive, and bloody war. It was these first steps, taken under a sense of duty to the Union, taken, as they thought, really in the interests of peace, that involved them inextricably in the war. They ought to have remembered that all negotiation ends with the first blow and the flow of blood; that, then, it is a question of force, and no longer one of right and reason; that war is like that cave of bones and carcasses in mythology into which led many tracks, but out of it, none.
Much of the apparent unanimity which prevailed in favour of the war was the result of terrour. The people of the North seem to have a peculiar dread of public opinion. The great majority will not only surrender their own convictions to what happens to be the popular caprice, but they will join the populace in persecuting those who entertain their own previous convictions. It was so in the crisis under consideration. But very effective measures were taken by the Government in aid of this spontaneous instinct of terrour. They revived the system of espionage and arrests which had been employed in France by Robespierre and Fouché. At first, it was pretended that the arrested persons held secret correspondence with the Southern authorities; but soon all disguise and hypocrisy were thrown off, and arrests were made on charges, even suspicion, of mere disloyalty. It was held that the safeguards which the Constitution threw around citizens, protected them "in their persons, houses, paper, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures;" guarantying them a speedy trial in open court of law, and giving them by the writ of habeas corpus the right to know at once the charge against them, and to have the validity of that charge examined by a judge having power to discharge; - it was held that these provisions were put in abeyance by the state of war, and that the liberty of the citizen was not to be considered when the nation's life was at stake.