The Right of Revolution


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, June 15, 1861

This issue of Harper's Weekly has a variety of interesting stories and pictures. The cover has an illustration and story on the death of Colonel Ellsworth. The issue also has a discussion on the problem of fugitive slaves. News describes early events in the Civil War.

(Scroll Down to See entire page, Newspaper Thumbnails will take you to the page of interest)


Ellsworth's Death

Colonel Ellsworth's Death


The Right of Revolution

The Fugitive Slave Question

The Fugitive Slave Question

Rebel Cavalry

Capture of Rebel Cavalry

General Bragg's Camp

General Bragg's Camp

Camp Anderson

Camp Anderson

Santa Rosa Island

Santa Rosa Island

Las Moras

Confederate Troops on the Las Moras

Civil War Camps

Civil War Camps

Rebel Steamboats

Rebel Steamboats

Arlington heights

Arlington Heights

Senator Douglas

Senator Douglas

Newport News

Newport News






[JUNE 15, 1861.



SATURDAY, JUNE 15, 1861.

A FAVORITE argument of the enemies of the American people, at the present crisis, is to say that civil war and bloodshed render the reconstruction of the Union impossible.

The argument, such as it is, has done service. While the Gulf States were declaring in the most binding form of words they could frame that they never, never would reconstruct the Union, Virginia still protested against " coercion," because it would render separation final. While a new Government was being deliberately established at Montgomery, and every trace of the Government of the United States was being obliterated by its pseudo-successor, New York politicians still denounced force, because bloodshed would alienate us forever. And even now, foreign observers as well as domestic traitors whine at the outbreak of a war which, they say, must render a reunion of the States utterly hopeless.

These gentlemen should read history, and take heart. Civil war, we beg to assure them, is not an invention of the nineteenth century. It has occurred before, once or twice, in most countries, and, surprising as it may seem to the critics we address, it has hardly ever ended in a final separation of the belligerents, but has almost invariably terminated in the victory of one side and the submission of the other. Nay, more, after the lapse of a few years, the sometime enemies have been better friends than ever.

The history of England has been an endless succession of civil wars. Over one quarter of the fifteenth century was consumed in the war of the Roses ; yet the people quietly acquiesced in the Government of Henry VII. At least half the kingdom supported Charles the First against the Commonwealth, and fought for him bravely ; but when he was fairly overthrown and executed, they submitted, and were loyal to Cromwell. Half a dozen times, after the abdication of James the Second, the people of various parts of the kingdom rose in arms to restore " the Pretender ;" at many times during the reign of William the people of Great Britain must have been equally divided between the rival kings ; yet Anne's reign was unusually peaceful and happy. Since then Ireland has been in arms ever so often, and her leaders have proclaimed as loudly as our Southrons do, that they would never submit; yet there is now no part of the British dominions more contented or more loyal than Ireland.

It would be tedious to recount the endless civil wars which preceded the establishment of the great French monarchy, or those which had the effect of consolidating it afterward. But there probably never was a war prosecuted with more bitterness or more fury on both sides than the religious war which began with the massacre of Saint Bartholomew and only ended with the coronation of Louis XIV. ; whose reign, however, was singularly free from domestic troubles. It may be remarked also that even the revocation of the Edit de Nantes, which probed the old sores to the bottom, did not revive the war ; so false it is to suppose that time will not tame the warlike spirit of minorities. Nothing could be fiercer than the spirit with which the republicans of France denounced the encroachments of Bonaparte ; yet they became his willing soldiers long before the Expedition to Russia. So in our time ; ten years ago, all France was secretly execrating the author of the coup d'etat of the 2d December, and the subsequent massacres ; now the difficulty is to find a Frenchman who is not a Napoleonist.

Spain, like France and England, was, in the first centuries of modern history, a congeries of small kingdoms. Of these, in the thirteenth century, there remained, Aragon, Castile, and Granada. How Castile conquered and absorbed the other two the history of Spain relates ; but Mr. Prescott says nothing in his history of Philip the Second about any remains of the old hostile feeling at that time. It had in fact died out long before. During Wellington's campaign in Spain the Spanish people were divided, and fought with bitterness on both sides; yet they all submitted to Ferdinand VII. Again, almost in our own day, the Carlist war divided half the households of Spain ; yet no monarch is more universally popular among her people than Queen Isabella.

We might go on to show that the history of Germany, Italy, Russia, Sweden, and all the other nations akin to ourselves, has been similar to that of Great Britain, France, and Spain. We might especially refer to the affair of the Sonderbund in Switzerland, which was so graphically related in the columns of the Lounger a couple of weeks since. But we have probably said enough to prove that civil wars have been common in all countries, that they have hardly ever led to permanent divisions between the hostile sections, but that, after a fair fight, one side has generally been beaten and has succumbed to the other.

It will be so in our case. It is impossible

that this Union can be divided. Peaceable separation would be organized anarchy. And now that both sections are armed for the fight, the war will take its course, and in the nature of things one will be beaten and will succumb to the other.

We hear many boasts from the South of their willingness to fight to the last man before they yield. This is what every people says at the beginning of a war. Nobody—no nation—ever contemplates surrender at the beginning of a fight. We must let time and the discomforts of war do their work. If we are true to ourselves, defeats in the field, isolation from the civilized world, blockaded ports, want of money, food, clothing, and all the comforts and luxuries of life, will by-and-by exercise a remarkably beneficial effect upon the temper of our enemy, now so obdurate. It is hard to yield, no doubt. But it is a good deal harder to starve or be killed. This reflection will by-and-by occur to the "unconditional enemies of reconstruction."

The Albion censures us because, in reply to a direct charge of falsehood brought against us by W. H. RUSSELL, Esq., LL.D., correspondent of the London Times, we ventured to assure our readers that we had spoken the truth. Apparently, if Mr. RUSSELL had accused the Albion of falsehood, that journal would have remained silent under the imputation. Of the taste of the Albion's interference in the matter, in ignorance of the facts, it is not for us to judge. Possibly, when Mr. RUSSELL comes North, he may lament that his volunteer champion had not shown less zeal and more discretion in his cause.



JUST before Postmaster Blair closed the postal communication between the rebellious States and the North, the Lounger received a long and courteous letter from Mississippi, partly criticising some things which had been said in these columns, and partly endeavoring to justify the treason of Jefferson Davis and his fellow-conspirators.

M. thinks the Lounger is " a desperate bad politician," because he admits the right of revolution, and concedes that the discontented themselves must be the judges when the proper hour arrives, yet complains that the rebellious citizens did not exhaust all peaceful means before they invoked war. The logic here does not seem to be very clear. But as M. holds views that are elsewhere held, and openly put forth by a few papers in the loyal part of the country, it is worth while to state again precisely what we understand by the right of revolution.

It is the natural right of self-defense, belonging to society as to the individual. It is the right of any community which suffers intolerable oppression from its government, and is without hope of remedy in the peaceful order of law, to appeal to arms to change the government and secure the redress. But as the right of self-defense is inherent in every individual, so every member of society has an equal claim to the remedy ; and, consequently, the right of revolution belongs to the whole people.

When, therefore, any nation, intolerably oppressed by its government, has exhausted every peaceful means of settlement, and appealing to God and to the world for the justice of its cause and the necessity of a struggle, succeeds in overthrowing that government and establishing another, it has resorted to revolutionary redress, and the world admits its claim. But since there will never be absolute unanimity, and some of the people—for instance, the officers of the government and their friends—will oppose the revolution, the word " people" must be considered to mean the greater number of them. The "people" can not mean a minority of them. The will of the people of the city of New York is the will of the majority. The will of the people of the United States is the will of the majority. Until, therefore, a majority of the people of the country, directly by their wishes or indirectly by their acquiescence, having vainly appealed to every lawful method and failed to rid themselves of intolerable oppression, take up arms to right themselves, there is no revolution. If a few people try it, it is a riot. If enough to make the effort formidable, it is a rebellion. And as the greatest good of the greatest and not of the smallest number is the true aim of government, such a movement having none of the dignity of a revolution wants also its justification.

Now does M., or any body else, pretend that the greater part of the people of the United States suffer any intolerable oppression which they wish to remove by force of arms ?



Now comes " Another Lounger," and asks the present one—" Who ought to be the judges of the cause for revolution ?" The reply to this question is very simple. When people consciously risk their necks they do not do it without what seems to them adequate occasion. But meanwhile other people retain their conscience and common sense : and if they see a revolution begun, as in the present instance, for a base and inhuman purpose, they do not therefore justify it. Revolutions are justified, not by their success, but by their results.

" Another Lounger" asserts that the theory of our system is that the majority shall rule: that the minority are therefore the governed, and that the " legitimate deduction" from this is that the majority section is the governing and the minority section the governed section : but that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. He adds that our fathers so regarded the question between them and Great Britain.

How can a shrewd man be guilty of so much sophism and error in one sentence ? Our fathers did not complain that they were in a minority or outvoted, but that they were not allowed to vote at all ; that they were taxed without asking their consent, just as at this moment the Southern people are taxed by Jeff Davis's Government, which has never said to them " by your leave." And the word " section" has in this discussion no relevance. In a Government where the citizens have all equal political power either the majority or minority must govern—which shall it be ? That the minority happen to live in one part of the country can not affect the question. That the minority think the majority adverse to their interests is inevitable; otherwise they would be with the majority. But they are one people ; the question, therefore, upon which they differ is a common question, and the greater number of the people think it should be settled in one way rather than in another. The fewer are bound to submit. If they resist, they can only justify their resistance by the plea that the wrong consequent upon the majority's decision will be so immediate and disastrous that it is better to take the chance of anarchy than to wait for legal redress. And of this history and mankind will be the judges.

" Another Lounger" speaks of " our late Southern brothers" as resolved to fight rather than be ruled against their consent. But is not the opposition in every popular government ruled, in this sense, against its consent? And is that a justification for taking up arms? Are the citizens of the city of New York whom Fernando Wood rules against their consent—and there are several of them-justified in breaking up the city government by force because they did not vote for Mr. Wood, and had no faith in him? Those citizens live mainly in certain wards. May they call themselves the oppressed minority wards because they can not coerce the greater number of people who live in other wards? May they ask to retire and form another city by themselves?

No, fellow-Lounger ; when our fathers said that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, they did not mean the consent of every individual citizen, but the great mass of the people. Nor did they mean the consent of the governed in any particular square mile or miles. They meant the consent of the people, in a common-sense use of the word. Now there are more than thirty millions of people in this country. Does "Another Lounger" suppose that there are four millions of them who seriously wish this revolution?

Your next question we can take in another paragraph.


IT is another, but it belongs to the same general topic we have been considering, " Does," asks Another Lounger, "in your opinion, the fact that (so far as their separate individual action is concerned) the South States have heretofore approved and consented to a constitutional and supreme rule over them bind them henceforth forever, unless the North States, the ruling States, shall also give their consent that the former no longer obey ? If this is claimed, then what right (and you have claimed it for them) have the people of Rome, who for centuries have consented that the Pope shall be supreme temporal ruler over them, and who first asked him to assume that power, to attempt to free themselves from their self-assumed yoke ?"

The " South States" and the "North States" are not parties to this Government. The Constitution of the United States was made by "the people," and the people of the several States who accepted the Constitution renounced the separate sovereignty of their States so far as was necessary to form a nation. No method was provided for the restoration to the State of those sovereign powers; but the Constitution can be amended in a prescribed manner. If an amendment so introduced should provide for that restoration, a State may become a sovereign power again, but not otherwise. If the people of any State desire that sovereignty again, and the people of all the States decline to give it to them, there is an end of the matter, unless they choose to try to get it by force, in which case it is either a riot or a rebellion ; and in any case it is the armed action of a few against many.

Of course, each generation of American citizens must decide for itself whether it wishes to maintain the present system of government or not. No generation can bind another. Politically the word "forever" gets its force from common consent. Whenever, therefore, the people of this country wish to be bound no longer by the Constitution of the United States, they will resort to the methods of relief provided by that instrument. If they are not willing to do that, it is evidently because they know that they are not the people, but only a few persons.

As for Rome, the Pope was not chosen by the people as their temporal ruler, as Another Lounger seems to suppose. And even if they had chosen him, and were wearing "a self-assumed yoke"—if they had provided no means for easing that yoke, and were intolerably and irremediably oppressed by it, they would, when they felt themselves strong enough, throw it off. The Pope has always held the yoke fast, not by popular consent but by foreign bayonets.


A YEAR ago the Treasury of the United States was at the mercy of Howell Cobb, of happy memory. An officer of the Government, sworn to be faithful to it, and paid by it, he was using every method he could command to impoverish the Treasury, destroy the Government, and ruin the

country. Of Cobb it may be said that, on the one hand, he was a fit associate of Floyd, and on the other, a proper pendent to Thompson. Does it not seem as if Divine Providence meant to inspire an unfailing faith in the perpetuity of our Government by showing us that it might be for months and years in the hands of such men, and then emerge unharmed and with eyes lifted heavenward, as Daniel came out of the lions' den?

Every body knew Cobb's incapacity : every body knows his treason ; but nobody ever suspected him of humor. Yet Cobb has been making merry. He addressed his fellow-traitors at Atlanta on the 22d May. The object of the speech was the raising of money to support the rebellion. The reasoning was worthy of Cobb. The financial devising was also worthy of Cobb. He said: "We not only need soldiers, we must have treasure to carry on the war." True enough, was the natural response of every listening rebel ; and how on earth are we to get it ?

The sly Cobb, knowing perfectly well what was in the minds of his hearers, suggestively continued, in a "will-you-walk-into-my-parlor" vein: " Private contributions have been offered to a vast amount. I will mention an instance," etc. " Offers of this sort," he added, " come pouring in upon the Government from all parts of the country."

It is easy to fancy the relief afforded by this last sentence to those who were naturally alarmed by the opening allusion to private contributions. Ah, well ! we may fancy them saying with a sigh of relief, since offers are pouring in, we are safe. To deepen this feeling the cunning Cobb says, as it were, " Exactly ; you're safe enough ; you needn't contribute ;" for, he continues in his speech, "The Government does not require contributions from individuals; she has the means within herself of sustaining this war." Good! responds the audience in their souls. "No donations are necessary except for the equipment of your own volunteers, and those you can and will provide for," quoth Cobb. Of course, the cheerful crowd answer in their hearts. "But," continues the comical Cobb —and this is the joke which betrays the excellent humor he has so long concealed—" But I tell you what you may do. Those of you who raise large crops of cotton, when your cotton is ready for market, give it to your Government at its market value, receive its bonds, and let it sell your produce to Europe for the specie to sustain our brave 'boys' in Virginia. This was agreed on at Montgomery, and we promised to throw out the suggestion that the people might think about it."

In other words : " Gentlemen, Jeff must have money ; but he doesn't require contributions from you. Jeff has means within himself of paying as he goes. He distinctly does not ask you to give any thing whatsoever. But, look here, giving is one thing and exchanging is another. Wouldn't it be lovely in you to give Jeff your cotton, which he can sell for specie in Europe, and let him give you his bonds—Jefferson Davis's bonds, and Mississippi might indorse them—which you can sell for specie—whenever you can find a buyer. Above all things, Jeff disdains to ask for contributions. Yet contributions are pouring in, and he only asks of you to give him your cotton and take his bonds."

If that is not giving for nothing, what is ? Cobb is not only a traitor, forsworn before God and man, but he is also a wag.


THE best use of red tape is to hang people who perplex public affairs by it. Regiment after regiment of ardent, brave, patriotic citizens is gathered in this State, and are instantly struck with nightmare. They can not move hand or foot. They wonder, and every body wonders, why they do not go. The Government needs every man as fast as he can be had, and still they do not go. Men throw up their business at the call of the country and State ; they leave their families ; they only ask to go—and still they stay. Not a regiment leaves without a prolonged and disgraceful squabble among the civil officers and committees and contractors. If any disgusted and impatient citizen tries to find the cause of the delay, it turns out that nothing is ready because of the conflict of contractors ; that nobody goes because half of a committee owns railway stock, and wants to send the troops by rail ; and the other half owns steamboat stock, and wants to send them by water. Somebody declines to give arms ; somebody else clogs the movement because his son or cousin is not made captain or major. There is no end of petty annoyances and delays; and the one great characteristic of the military movement of the Empire State, so far as the authorities are concerned, is inefficiency.

Why could not New York have been as prompt as Massachusetts ? Why were there no proper equipments for our soldiers ? Men from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania were in Washington before a New York soldier had marched. Did they march as soon as they received orders? Orders from where ?

It is war. The first condition of war is a single head. What is the great State of New York doing at such a time as this with a military board ? Why does not every member resign, and leave the Governor to deal directly with the Department of War? The Government of the United States requires a certain number of regiments. They are to go either into service or into camp. The requisition is made upon the Governor. If more men offer than are asked for, they should be taken, because they will be needed. The Government can not have too large an army. It may cost a great deal of money; but the larger the army the sooner the peace ; and the money will have been economically spent. Washington was told that five thousand men would put down Shays's rebellion. " Very well," said he, " then I will send fifteen thousand." If you would beat, said Napoleon, have just twice as many men as your enemy at each point.

It is high time that the Government of the State of New York and the Union Defense Committee (Next Page)



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