Letter from CHARLES ELIOT NORTON to GEORGE PERKINS MARSH, dated December 29, 1864.
My dear Mr. Marsh
I have delayed for some time to write to you in the hope that I might have occasion to thank you for a contribution to the North American Review. But I have been disappointed in this hope, and will not longer wait for its fulfilment. The Review has lately passed into the hands of new publishers,--Mess. Ticknor & Fields,--who are able to promote its interests and to increase its circulation. They desire me to repeat to you the request to write for it, and I need hardly add, that there is no one whose contributions would give more satisfaction to Lowell & myself. If the Review is to become what it may be made, influential in forming and rectifying public opinion, and in enlightening thought and increasing knowledge, it must become so through the aid of such persons as yourself.
But I will not dwell on this, but rather let me at once wish you most heartily a
happy New Year, and exchange congratulations with you on the great good events of
the last two months, and the fair prospect
which they have opened before us. Mr. Lincoln's reelection and the circumstances attending it are, indeed, occasion for deep and permanent rejoicing, and the succession of victories which have distinguished the last two months have added to the thankfulness for the national salvation and have seemed the natural accompaniment and expression of it. I have thought often of you during this period, and have sympathized with you in the relief and patriotic satisfaction and joy which these events have brought to you. Lowell, Child, and I have associated you with our own content, feeling sure that there was no American at home or abroad who would be made happier than you by these events or share more fully in the confident hopes which they authorize.
From the beginning of the political campaign there was, in my judgement, no moment
when Mr. Lincoln's reelection was doubtful; but there was great depression in the
ranks of the Union party during August and September, and the conduct of a portion
of the party through the summer was such as to give a factitious strength to our
opponents. The Chicago Platform, however, brought these
malcontents to their senses,
and McClellan's letter of acceptance and the course of his principal supporters helped the good work. But even though the reelection of Mr. Lincoln seemed certain it was impossible not to feel anxious as to the circumstances which might attend it and as to the manner in which it might be received by the more desperate & unprincipled portion of the supporters of McClellan. But this anxiety was wholly needless. The result of the election was not more satisfactory than the manner in which it was accomplished. The eighth of November 1864, will always be esteemed as one of our great historic days. Never before was a people called upon for a decision involving more vital interests not only to itself but to the progress of mankind, and never did any people show itself so worthy to be entrusted with freedom and power. No other act could have been so decisive in settling the questions at issue in the rebellion, or in determining the conclusion of the rebellion itself.
I see now no limit to the vision we may indulge, no barrier to our hopes of the
future for our country. The principles which lie
at the foundation of our political creed, & inspire our political faith, have been tested. They are no longer experimental. Upon them the future may be & will be builded fair.
This struggle has done much to give our people a true conception of the nature of
our institutions, of the meaning of the principles of democratic republicanism, and
of the duties involved in those principles. It has done much, too, to strengthen the
faith of the people in themselves. You would find a very different tone prevailing
now from that which was common four years ago among all classes. You would be
surprised, I think, for it is constantly a surprise even to those who have witnessed
it, at the growth of political thought and feeling among us, at the greater
seriousness, earnestness and confidence of opinion. Very likely a part of this
improvement is only in appearance, and the elevation of feeling produced by the war
will be followed by a reaction. It will not be strange if, after the trials of peace
begin, and the excitement of the contest has subsided, much of the old political
faithlessness should show itself again. But part of the improvement is real
& substantial, and the great source of our political corruption being removed, the danger of our falling back into our old sins is but slight. -- The probable immense rapidity of the increase of material prosperity after the close of the war may well be regarded as exposing us to perils. And other perils lie in the enormous increase of executive power, and in the multiplication of military & civil offices. But these are evils which we may hope by the exercise of good sense partly to remove, or partly to remedy.
A few of your old friends see nothing but gloom in the future. Mr.
Ticknor is having a old age saddened by want of sympathy with the opinions
that prevail around him, and by want of confidence in the future of his country.
Mr. Winthrop has lost his last opportunity to regain the
trust of the community, and has destroyed whatever little influence he possessed.
Mr. Everett, on the contrary, has righted himself in
popular esteem, & is happy in once more being on the side of the country
& the majority. Sumner has been but a cold friend to
& perhaps feels that it was a little unfair to other aspirants in Mr. Lincoln to seek and accept a renomination. He has no kindness toward Seward,--but his own views of foreign policy seem to me often highly unreasonable.
Mr. Lincoln has gained more in public respect & confidence than any other of our prominent men during the past year. His character is one to make its true impression but slowly. Its most marked qualities are those which require length of time for their exhibition. Good sense, foresight, patience, good humor, tell in the long run. I attribute to him uncommon political sagacity, and the peculiar instinct of a statesman in distinguishing the practicable from the impracticable, and in my opinion he stands head & shoulders above all our other statesmen in his clear understanding of, & hearty fidelity to the essential principles of democracy.
The popular feeling toward England has been a good deal embittered by recent
occurrences. The tone of the English press with regard to the Florida affair, the insolent & foolish letter
of Lord Russell to the Confederate Commissioners, the discharge by Justice Coursol of the St. Alban's raiders, although none of them matters of real importance, save as indications of the prevailing spirit of England, have naturally produced great irritation. And this has been aggravated by the tone & temper of many of our leading papers. In allowing ourselves to get angry on such provocation we unfortunately lose dignity, & descend from that level on which such topics should be discussed. The disposition to retaliate on England for the injuries & insults she has heaped upon us during the last four years is very strong, and all the statesmanship & all the good sense of the cooler headed & better minded part of the community will be required to keep the nation from getting into such a state of feeling as would inevitably result in war. Goldwin Smith did great service while here by his efforts to explain the real elements & conditions of the feelings entertained in England toward us, and by his extremely candid statement of the relations of the people of the two countries. But his appeal to calm reason, and to moral considerations, from the heated vindictiveness occasioned by the smart
of recent injuries, is, for the present, at least, of little avail. I trust that when the rebellion is thoroughly subdued, the nation conscious of its own dignity & strength, will gradually return to a nobler and more peaceful mood. To injure England would be the sole object of a war with her, for we shall have no occasion to vindicate our power or to assert our rights, and every injury that we could inflict upon her would return in injury to ourselves and to the cause of human progress, peace, and brotherhood.
I look with interest to the publication of the volume of State Papers for 1864, containing your despatches. I am desirous of learning your views of the condition & prospects of Italy. If we were not absorbed in the great interest of our own concerns, the Italian question would receive more of the attention which its importance deserves.
Let me repeat our best wishes to Mrs. Marsh & yourself for the happiness of the New Year. I am always, with sincere respect,
Faithfully YoursCharles Eliot Norton.
References in this letter:
The North American Review, founded in 1815, was one of the most important American periodicals of the nineteenth century. James Russell Lowell was its editor, with Norton, from 1863 to 1872.
The publishing house established in 1834 by William D. Ticknor and James T. Fields was one of the most prominent in Boston.
James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), poet, critic, and professor at Harvard, was editor, with with Norton, of the North American Review1863-72.
Noteworthy Union victories in November and December of 1864 include General William Tecumseh Sherman's capture of Milledgeville, Georgia's capital (November 23) and the defeat of Confederate forces at Nashville, Tennessee (December 15-16).
Francis James Child (1825-1896), philologist and professor at Harvard, was an authority on the ballad.
At their convention at Chicago in August 1864, the Democrats adopted a platform calling the war a failure and calling for re-establishment of the Union on its old basis.
General George B. McClellan, a favorite of the Peace Democrats, or "Copperheads," eventually ran for President on the Democratic ticket in 1864.
George Ticknor (1791-1871), historian and scholar, published his biography of William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859), author of History of the Conquest of Mexico and History of the Conquest of Peru, in 1864.
Robert C. Winthrop (1809-1894) was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives 1840-50 and a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts 1850-51. He reluctantly opposed the Fugitive Slave Bill, aind in 1864, opposed the reelection of Lincoln.
Edward Everett (1794-1865), a Unitarian clergyman, at various times Governor of Massachusetts, President of Harvard and U.S. Senator, delivered the main oration at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, an address completely overshadowed by the one made by Lincoln on the same occasion.
Charles Sumner (1811-1874), a founder of the Republican party, was U.S. Senator from Massachusetts 1851-1874.
William Seward (1801-1872) was U.S. Secretary of State 1861-69.
The Florida was a ship among many contracted in 1861 by the South to be built in British ship yards. The Florida left the port at Liverpool in November of 1864, despite protest from the North. It was captured in Brazillian waters, which was a challenge to the neutrality of that country.
Lord John Russell (1792-1878) did a lot to preserve British neutrality in affairs concerning the American Civil War. He felt anyone had the right to rebel against an oppressive government. He came to consider Southern independence a fair price price to pay for peace, and for humanitarian and economic reasons, he came to be in favor of outside intervention.
On October 19, 1864, a group of Confederate soldiers staged a raid on St. Albans, Vermont, holding up all the banks and escaping into Canada with $201,000. They were captured and tried in Canada, but acquitted by Judge Charles-Joseph Coursol on December 13 on the grounds that the raid had been a legitimate act of war.
The "Italian question" was that of unification. In 1861 the separate regions of Italy (except for Austrian Venetia and the Papal States) were united under Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy, who became the first King of Italy. As a further step towards unification, a September 1864 agreement included provisions that French troops be removed from Rome and the capital of Italy be moved from Turin to Florence.