Letter from CHARLES ELIOT NORTON to GEORGE PERKINS MARSH, dated November 9, 1861.

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Publication InformationCambridge, 9 Nov'r. 1861.

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My dear Sir

I am truly obliged to you for your kind and interesting letter of the 16 of September. I am very glad to hear that you find your residence in Turin so pleasant, and I trust that Mrs Marsh's health continues as much improved as at the time of your writing.

I fully share with you in the dissatisfaction you express in regard to the management of our public affairs, and the wretched feebleness & inefficiency of our popular leaders. There has been nothing in the past two months to diminish this feeling. But, at the same time, I am not discouraged as to the final result of the war. The course of the administration & of the party leaders, however far it may fall short of what was to be desired, and indeed of what

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was to be reasonably expected from them, and however much it may impede & injure the national cause, will not, I believe, prevent the untimate success of that cause. The people of the North, a majority of them at least, are in advance of the Administration & of the politicians in their views as to the manner in which the war should be conducted, and as to the object to be attained by it. These views are very slowly, but very certainly defining themselves in such a manner that they will finally control the action of the government. Circumstances are aiding this result, and there is ground for hope that the disheartening period of timid counsels, shiftless effort, and undecided policy is near its end.

This hope may or may not be justified. Even if it turn out groundless, we have already gained much by the war, & shall hereafter gain more. Whether we succeed in bringing back

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the rebellious states to the Union, or make a settlement with them on the basis of their independence, slavery as a power in the state is at an end. Maryland & Missouri are henceforth free States; the question of the territorial extension of Slavery is settled; and it seems probable that the competition in the production of Cotton which is now established will so reduce the profits of slave labor through the Cotton States, that slavery will decline. At any rate our present condition in this respect is much better than our condition before the war;--and though to gain this is very little compared with what might be gained by honesty of purpose and vigorous action in the war, it is yet worth all that the war has cost. It is hard to be content with this; and it is a bitter disappointment to see opportunity after opportunity for such deeds as are demanded by considerations of sound national policy not less than by those

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of justice & right, lost through the incapacity, the cowardice, or the mean personal ambitions of the men who are in power, as well as through the want [of] moral earnestness and conviction among the people generally.

Had the Administration taken a bold stand at first, it would have had the support not only of the Republican party but of quite as large a party outside of the Republican ranks as it can now depend on. Had it from the beginning understood & practised on the idea that war really meant , & that slavery was the real cause of the rebellion, we should be far on the way now to a satisfactory peace, and to the emancipation of the slaves. But it has wholly failed to concentrate & invigorate public opinion, to make war in earnest, and to treat slavery as an institution incompatible with the existence of a democratic republican form of government. The

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reasons for its failure are to be found in the corruption of opinion & the feebleness of character which have been the results of the so-called prosperity of the last forty years. The principles of our government & of our Constitution have been perverted by false interpretations, sedulously repeated & enforced, and our public men need a longer training of adversity than a year can give them before we have a right to expect manliness or any other great virtue from them. I hope they will succeed in making the war long enough & hard enough for the growth of those qualities of which we now stand so much in need.

As regards Emancipation it is extremely difficult to determine what should be the policy of the Administration. It is much easier to say what it should have been, but now after Mr Cameron's letter to Gen Butler, after the President's modification of Fremont's proclamation, after the

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repeated declaration that the war was not against slavery,--it would be almost impossible for the administration to secure that external support which a policy directed openly toward emancipation would require for its success. The acts of the administration & their failures to act have had alike the unhappy effect of dividing public opinion on this subject; and a strong policy which would have been heartily supported six months ago would find many opposers now. And yet in spite of this bad result from the course of the Administration on this subject, there is, I think, a gradual advance of anti-slavery & emancipation sentiment. It would have been vastly more rapid, and more consistent, if men had not been confused by the course of the government, by talk about constitutional guarantees & all that sort of nonsense which so far as slavery is concerned ought to have ended with the breaking out of the rebellion. Every man of moral

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feeling, of a sense of right & wrong, ought to be a practical abolitionist after such an exhibition of the effects of slavery as the last year has afforded. But men cannot easily get over thirty years of false teachings, and profitable scruples.

We stand in great need of some success in arms, both for the sake of the army & of the country. Supplies both of men & of money depend on it. Everybody has confidence in McClellan, but he is untried. The method & manner of Fremont's removal have had a very bad effect. There has been no greater fault committed since the war began than the publication of Adj. Gen Thomas's report. It is a proceeding which casts the greatest dishonour on the Administration. That Fremont was unfit for the position to which he was appointed is perhaps not to be denied, but this attempt to divert popular sympathy from him is of the most disgraceful nature. There is room for the supposition

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that had Fremont never published his proclamation he would still be in command.

But I am writing too much on these subjects, tempted indeed to do so by the enquiry with which your letter ended.

There is little news to be told of books, or of your friends here. Child keeps busily at work in spite of the attractions of local politics into which he has heartily entered. Lowell had a fine, strong, imaginative poem in the last number of the 'Atlantic.' He has been greatly grieved by the death of the only son of his sister Mrs Putnam, from a wound received in the affair at Ball's Bluff, in which our 15 & 20 Regts won honor for their steady courage. Young Putnam was a lieutenant, he was just 21 years old, a fine, pure simple, brave boy, and he died nobly.

Young Holmes, the eldest son of the doctor, also a lieutenant in the same regiment, was severely wounded, but is doing well. The war comes very close
[the following is written vertically on the page beginning "reasons for its"]
to us.

If you will point out to me the best way of doing so, I will send to you, if you care to see them & will allow me to have this pleasure, such transient publications as might have some interest for you,--every now & then there is a pamphlet or a map worth seeing.

My Mother & sisters desire me to give their kindest regards to Mrs Marsh & yourself,--to which I beg to add my own best respects.

Very truly YoursCharles Eliot Norton.His Exc George P. Marshcc.

References in this letter:

On July 30, General Benjamin Butler sought clarification from Secretary of War Simon Cameron of the policy respecting slaves who sought refuge behind Union lines. Cameron replied on August 8, stating the slaves escaping from Confederate territory were to be harbored, while slaves escaping from loyal Union slave owners were to be returned under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act.

General John Charles Frémont (1813-1890), while based in St. Louis as head of the Department of the West, issued a proclamation ordering that the property of secessionists be confiscated and their slaves emancipated. President Lincoln, afraid that this action would destroy Union support in the slave-holding border states, revoked the proclamation and removed Frémont from command.

After Union troops under General George B. McClellan frustrated a massed Confederate drive into the North under General Robert E. Lee at the bloody battle of Antietam, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862, McClellan's habitual hesitancy allowed the Confederates to withdraw under cover of darkness. President Lincoln replaced him as commander of the Army of the Potomac with General Ambrose E. Burnside on November 7.

The report by Adjutant General of the Army Lorenzo Thomas presumably related to an investigation of irregularities concerning army supplies in Frémont's Department of the West.

Francis James Child (1825-1896), philologist and professor at Harvard, was an authority on the ballad.

James Russell Lowell's poem "The Washers of the Shroud" was published in the Atlantic Monthly for November 1861.

Lieutenant William Putnam, the son of Lowell's sister Mary Putnam, was killed at the battle of Ball's Bluff in October, 1861.

Lieutenant Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935), son of the physician, poet, and humorist, enlisted in the Massachusetts 20th Volunteers at the outbreak of the Civil War and was wounded in action three separate times. In later life he served as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court 1902-1932.