War — Even if Slavery Were Removed as an Issue
Abolitionist Moncure Conway saw deeper into the question of immediate emancipation than most of his contemporaries. He rightly sensed that the more fierce the North’s desire to subjugate the South became, the more the black man would be used as a weapon to achieve their goal of political supremacy. The postwar Union League which incited Southern blacks against their white neighbors followed this stratagem, against which the Ku Klux Klan became the predictable antidote.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
War – Even if Slavery Were Removed as an Issue
“Conway’s disenchantment with the Northern cause began in 1862 when his deep-seated hatred of war came again to the fore, overcoming his bellicosity of the previous year. In April, he wrote to Charles Sumner on his recent lecture tour “a growing misgiving that a true peace cannot be won by the sword in an issue of this nature.” His second book, The Golden Hour, which was published that same year, displayed an increasing concern with the evils of war.
“The moralization of the soldier,” Conway now wrote, “is the demoralization of the man. War is the apotheosis of brutality . . . Should we continue this war long enough, we shall become the Vandals and Hessians the South says we are.”
Complaints about the low morale of the troops meant to him simply that the Northern soldier was still civilized and under the influence of Christian morality. The inescapable conclusion was that the longer the war continued, the more savage and brutalized the North would become. Here he generalized the insight at the end of The Rejected Stone that if emancipation did not come before it became a “fierce” necessity, it would reflect war passions rather than benevolence.
After the President did take up his pen and sign the [proclamation], Conway felt that it was too little and too late. In part this may have reflected his disappointment that the war continued as fiercely as ever; for he had refused as an optimistic humanitarian to believe that the eradication of one evil might require acceptance of another. A case can be made for the theory that Lincoln framed and enforced his edict in such a way that the fewest possible slaves would be freed – while at the same time taking the bite out of antislavery criticism of the administration.
By April 1863, when he sailed for England as an unofficial envoy of the American abolitionists, Conway was completely fed up with the bloody conflict which e saw as inflicting terrible damage on the South without adequate justification . . . and in any case, war was a worse evil than slavery.
Soon after arriving in England, Conway stirred up a hornet’s nest by making a peace offer to James M. Mason, the Confederate envoy, which he innocently misrepresented as coming from the American abolitionists. Conway proposed to Mason that if the South would abolish slavery on its own, the antislavery men of the North would “immediately oppose the further prosecution of the war . . . ”
The storm that broke over the head of poor Conway was something from which he never fully recovered. Almost to a man the abolitionists condemned and repudiated his offer. Conway now understood, apparently for the first time, that many of the abolitionists were devoted to a war which would crush the South even if slavery were removed as an issue.”
(The Inner Civil War, Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union, George M. Frederickson, Harper & Row, 1965, pp. 123-125)