Letter from CHARLES ELIOT NORTON to GEORGE PERKINS MARSH, dated August 21, 1865.
My dear Sir
If you received the first number of the Nation you will have seen that your letter on the Sovereignty of the States reached me
safely,--and you may have wondered why that being the case I had not personally
acknowledged it, and thanked you for the note that accompanied it & also for
a letter that preceded it by some weeks. During the spring I was overworked,
& was obliged to postpone all but necessary correspondence, & just
as the leisure of the summer began, my little boy now two years old, became
dangerously ill, & for some weeks required the most constant &
Since his recovery I myself have been unwell. I am now gaining strength, & one of the pleasures of returning health is the ability to write to you once more and to thank you for your very kind & interesting letters.
Your letter of the 29 March caused me, indeed, sincere pain. I had heard previously with sorrow of the death of your son, but I had not known before of the bitterness of the grief which the circumstances of his illness and death had brought to you. Will you let me offer you my true and tender sympathy? May God give you comfort.
I trust that the unfavorable symptoms with which your sight had been affected have
passed, and that the summer has done much
to restore & strengthen it.
The importance of the rapidly succeeding events which have crowded our history
during the last four or five months is not to be fairly estimated without
considering their effect upon public sentiment. The assassination of Mr. Lincoln
made the sudden peace far less dangerous than it would have been had he lived. The
spirit of indulgence to the South, encouraged as it was by every tendency in the
North to self-indulgence after the fatigues & efforts of the past four years
of war, encouraged also by designing politicians who were engaged in turning the
easy good-temper of the people to the basest ends, received a sudden check from Mr.
Lincoln's death. It still no doubt exists to a deplora-
ble extent,--but the South is doing everything in its power to diminish it, & it grows weaker from month to month. The temper of the South as exhibited since the peace has opened the eyes of the most thoughtless and self-deluding to the fact that though the war is over the spirit of rebellion remains unsubdued. It is fortunate for us that the South has not been more politic & wary; that it has not concealed its hate, & its intention to continue the rebellion. It is fortunate too on the whole that Mr. Johnson should have tried his strange and hopeless scheme of reconstruction on so wide a scale. Its failure will be manifest before the meeting of Congress, and so far as I can learn from those best informed Mr. Johnson is ready to treat it as an experiment,
does not feel his pride involved in its success, & will not bring the enormous weight of executive influence to bear in its favor if Congress should not be well disposed to it.
Still, Mr. Johnson is not a man in whose character or judgement any strong
confidence can now be felt. The best ground for hope concerning him is given by his
political faith in the sovereignty of the people, and in his aversion to the
"aristocracy" of the South. His feeling toward slavery is plainly not based on any
moral sentiment, or any strong conviction of the incompatibility of slavery with the
safety of the republic, but mainly on his hatred of the class of masters. As a "mean
white" he has learned to hate them; but as a man he has not learned to hate slavery
or to recognize the right of the black to political equality with the white. His course in regard to the position of the negro at the South will probably be determined by the prevailing Northern sentiment; and I think that sentiment is setting strongly in the right direction,--and will finally come to the point of insisting that in the reconstruction of the South no man shall be disenfranchised on account of color.
But speculations in regard to Mr. Johnson's course and opinions are more uncertain
than they would otherwise be owing to the very painful doubts which are prevalent
concerning his personal habits. The papers have lately reported
him as ill,--but it is rumored that this is but a euphemistic form of
recent appointments in New York & Boston & elsewhere are tolerably satisfactory as indications of Mr. Johnson's personal feelings.
I trust that you receive the Nation regularly. It is by far the best expression that
we have of the best opinion of the community. Its editor in chief is Mr. Godkin, the very able New York correspondent of the London
Daily News during the rebellion, and the author of the articles in the North
American which you may have read on Aristocratic &
Democratic Opinions of Democracy. There is a capital of $100000. actually
paid in, on which the paper starts, and already it has met with the most encouraging
support from the public. I trust that we are at length to have
a journal that shall truly represent the intelligence, the independent thought & the moral character of America.
Child has very much turned away of late from pursuits of pure scholarship, & has given all his leisure to the concerns of the Freedmen. He has been going on, indeed, at intervals with his study of the language of Gower, & will before long publish his results as a supplement to his essay on Chaucer's Versification.
Lowell is wasted in his Professorship, & on the transient work that must be done for the Review,--wasted so far as the development of his genius in its best & most natural way is concerned. But his life & work are useful, & produce more good fruit than perhaps he knows of.
If your eyes & your inclination
[the following is written vertically on the page beginning "does not feel his pride"] permit I trust you will fulfil your intention of sending me some essays for the Review. I should value no other contributions more highly.
My Mother & sisters unite with Mrs. Norton & myself in best regards to Mrs. Marsh & yourself.
Always, with sincere respect,
Faithfully YoursCharles E. Norton.
References in this letter:
Marsh's five-part analysis in the Nation for 1865 of the claim to sovereignty by the individual states of the Union was called "The Sovereignty of the States" in the first installment and "State Sovereignty" thereafter.
Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, as Lincoln's successor as president attempted an early reconstruction of the South that the radical Republicans in Congress considered too lenient.
President Johnson was widely rumored to be an alcoholic.
Edwin Lawrence Godkin (1831-1902), a native of Ireland, who emigrated to the United States in 1856, was correspondent for the London Daily News during the Civil War, and founded the Nation in 1865. Later he was editor of the New York Evening Post.
"Aristocratic Opinions of Democracy," January 1865, and "The Democratic View of Democracy," July 1865.
Francis James Child (1825-1896), philologist and professor at Harvard, was an authority on the ballad.
Child's Observations on the Language of Chaucer and Gower appeared in 1869.
James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), poet, critic, and professor at Harvard, was editor, with with Norton, of the North American Review1863-72.