A Criticism of American Affairs (August 1862)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written August 1862


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 19, p. 226;
Written: in early August, 1862;
First published: in Die Presse, August 9, 1862.
Collection(s): Die Presse

The crisis, which at the moment reigns in the United States has been brought about by two causes: military and political.

Had the last campaign been conducted according to a single strategic plan, the main army of the West was then bound, as previously explained in these columns, to exploit its successes in Kentucky and Tennessee to make its way through north Alabama to Georgia and to seize the railway junctions there at Decatur, Milledgeville, etc. The link between the Eastern and Western armies of the secessionists would thereby have been broken and their mutual support rendered impossible. Instead of this, the Kentucky army marched south down the Mississippi in the direction of New Orleans and its victory near Memphis had no other result than to dispatch the greater part of Beauregard’s troops to Richmond, so that the Confederates, with a superior army in a superior position, here now suddenly confronted McClellan, who had not exploited the defeat of the enemy’s troops at Yorktown and Williamsburg and, moreover, had from the first split up his own forces. McClellan’s generalship, already described

by us previously, was in itself sufficient to ensure the ruin of the biggest and best disciplined army. Finally, War Secretary Stanton committed an unpardonable error. To make an impression abroad, he suspended recruiting after the conquest of Tennessee and so condemned the army to be constantly weakened, just when it was most in need of reinforcements for a rapid, decisive offensive. Despite the strategic blunders and despite McClellan’s generalship, with a steady influx of recruits the war, if not decided, had hitherto been rapidly nearing a victorious end. Stanton’s step was all the more disastrous since the South had at that precise moment enlisted every man from 18 to 35 years old and therefore staked everything on a single card. It is those men, who have been trained in the meantime, that give the Confederates the upper hand almost everywhere and secure them the initiative. They held Halleck fast, dislodged Curtis from Arkansas, beat McClellan, and under Stonewall Jackson gave the signal for the guerilla raids that are now already pushing forward as far as the Ohio.

In part, the military causes of the crisis are connected with the political ones. It was the influence of the Democratic Party that elevated an incompetent like McClellan to the position of Commander-in-Chief of all the military forces of the North, because he had been a supporter of Breckinridge. It is anxious regard for the wishes, advantages and interests of the spokesmen of the border slave states that has so far broken off the Civil War’s point of principle and deprived it of its soul, so to speak. The “loyal” slaveholders of these border states saw to it that the fugitive slave laws dictated by the South ... were maintained and the sympathies of the Negroes for the North forcibly suppressed, that no general could venture to put a company of Negroes in the field and that slavery was finally transformed from the Achilles’ heel of the South -Into its invulnerable horny hide. Thanks to the slaves, who do all the productive work, all able-bodied men in the South can be put into the field!

At the present moment, when secession’s stocks are rising, the spokesmen of the border states are making even greater claims. However, Lincoln’s appeal to them, in which he threatens them with inundation by the Abolition party, shows that things are taking a revolutionary turn. Lincoln knows what Europe does not know, that it is by no means apathy or giving way under pressure of defeat that causes his demand for 300,000 recruits to meet with such a cold response. New England and the Northwest, which have provided the main body of the army, are determined to force on the government a revolutionary kind of warfare and to inscribe the battle-slogan of “Abolition of Slavery!” on the star-spangled banner. Lincoln yields only hesitantly and uneasily to this pressure from without, but he knows that he cannot resist it for long. Hence his urgent appeal to the border states to renounce the institution of slavery voluntarily and under advantageous contractual conditions. He knows that only the continuance of slavery in the border states has so far left slavery untouched in the South and prohibited the North from applying its great radical remedy. He errs only if he imagines that the “loyal” slaveholders are to be moved by benevolent speeches and rational arguments. They will yield only to force.

So far, we have only witnessed the first act of the Civil War — the constitutional waging of war. The second act, the revolutionary waging of war, is at hand.

Meanwhile, during its first session Congress, now adjourned, decreed a series of important measures that we shall briefly summarise here.

Apart from its financial legislation, it passed the Homestead Bill, which the Northern masses had long striven for in vain; in accordance with this Bill, part of the state lands is given gratis to the colonists, whether indigenous or new-comers, for cultivation. It abolished slavery in Columbia and the national capital, with monetary compensation for the former slaveholders. Slavery was declared “forever impossible” in all the Territories of the United States. The Act, under which the new State of West Virginia is admitted into the Union, prescribes abolition of slavery by stages and declares that all Negro children born after July 4, 1863, are born free. The conditions of this emancipation by stages are on the whole borrowed from the law that was enacted 70 years ago in Pennsylvania for the same purpose . By a fourth Act all the slaves of rebels are to be emancipated, as soon as they fall into the hands of the republican army. Another law, which is now being put into effect for the first time, provides that these emancipated Negroes may be militarily organised and put into the field against the South. The independence of the Negro republics of Liberia and Haiti has been recognised and, finally, a treaty on the abolition of the slave trade has been concluded with Britain.

Thus, no matter how the dice may fall in the fortunes of war, even now it can safely be said that Negro slavery will not long outlive the Civil War.