Speech of Governor Yates.
AUGUST 1ST, 1862.
Now, fellow-citizens, what cause had they for this rebellion? We had a country which was prospering as never a country prospered before. We lived under the best government upon earth. We enjoyed the noblest institutions in the world. Throughout all its broad expanse, form ocean to ocean, happiness and prosperity were diffused upon every hand. Imperial wealth and unequalled power and a proud position was the status of these United States of America. We were at once the terror of tyrants and the envy of the nations of the world. The denizens of the foreign lands groaning beneath the iron heel of foul oppression, looked to this country as his surf asylum. By thousands they sought our peaceful and happy shores. As a people we were enjoying more of prosperity, more of happiness, and a more extended diffusion of the blessings of education, a higher appreciated of religion, a lofty and purer national character than any other nation in the world.
Then, I ask again, fellow-citizens, where was the cause for the destruction of this Union? The South has been the petted child of this government. She had the control of its offices and its power. This government was tied to her, gentle as a mother to her child and in the very time of the outbreak of this rebellion, she was enjoying prosperity and reaping harvests, such as she had not seen before.
Yes, fellow-citizens, without the slightest cause, we find these Southern politicians dissatisfied and discontented. We find them with fire and sword, with savage and demoniac desperation laying their unhallowed hands upon the temple of liberty and striking terrific blows at the pillars which upheld it. Citizens! shall that proud, time honored structure fall? (No, no!) No. By the blessing of God, it shall stand — IT SHALL STAND — and traitors shall rue the day and the hour they laid their hands upon it. (Loud cheering.)
So unexpected and sudden was this rebellion that the statesmen of America did not and could not conceive of the blackness of heart, and the savage character, and the utter wickedness of its supporters. They could not believe that any American citizen was so mad as to really desire to overthrow of this government, and they attributed it all the political animosities and jealouses, to pass away as had been the case in all other heated Presidential contests.
Acting upon this belief, when the call for seventy-five thousand men was made by the President, everybody seemed to think that was an immense army — such an army as had not existed since the days of Napoleon. Then it was thought that it would be unnecessary for that army to go to fight — that if they made a big show and a find parade, that was enough to silence the rebels and make them abandon the struggle without further contest.
But this was not the only error then committed. The final policy, fellow-citizens, of the concilation of the enemy was then and there adopted. Gentle measures towards our Southern brethren — as the secession sympathisers call these destroyers of our government and murderers of our citizens — gentle measures were supposed to be sufficient; and while we were practising upon gentle measures and encouraging extensive preparations for war — preparing and drilling their soldiers for the fight. We acted in all our conduct of the war as though we feared there was danger of hurting somebody. We were not the attacking party, but the party that was attacked. In order to reconcile rebellion to the government, we were kind, gentle and forbearing; whereas I tell you, fellow-citizens, the way to make traitors love you is to crush them out. [Great applause and cries of "good, good."] While we were waiting for concilation to heal up the bleeding wounds, we were only giving time to the rebels to mass superior forces against us — and make the most stupendous preparations for war. The consequence has been that the nation, with its boundless resources of men and money, with twenty millions to eight, has fought almost every battle with numbers inferior to the enemy. And now behold the proud army of McClellan, the chivalry and the glory of the land, while fighting with desperate and heroic valor, driven back by your enemies, until they stand not conquered, it is true, but beleagured within sight of their very capitol.
Fellow-citizens, no one man was to blame in this matter. No party was to blame — it was the error of the nation. All of us, without distinction of party, were to blame. Even now there is a very inconsiderable portion of the people of these Northern States who are opposed to employing the effective means by which this rebellion is to be crushed out.
Fellow-citizens, a change of policy is demanded, imperatively demanded, or God alone knows when, or where, or how this war is to terminate. [Great cheering.] We are to fight. The policy of reconciliation is fatal, utterly fatal. Our only chance now is to depend upon ourselves, and each man upon himself — to do all that you can, to give all that you possess, if you love your country as you ought to love it — the greatest country that God ever gave to man. Your duty is to pour out everything, treasure and blood, and die, if need be, to save this glorious cause of ours. [Loud applause.]
Fellow-citizens, my opinions with regard to this cause are well known. From the first, from the day of my inaugural down to the present time, I have been in favor of employing all the means within our reach for the vigorous prosecution of this war. [Cheers, and cries of "good, good."] And I stand up here to-night to say as I did the other night, "my voice is still for war," [applause] for stern relentless, resistless, stupendous, exterminating war, [great enthusiasm] and I am proud to-night to stand up before you, fellow-citizens of Chicago, and in the face of the world, if need be, proclaim that I am for employing all the means in the power of this Government for suppressing this infernal rebellion. [Renewed applause.]
Fellow-citizens, the South, as you all remember, asserted long ago that the slaves were an element of their strength, and in this they were entirely correct, because while their slaves were digging their ditches and building their fortifications, the white men were fresh and vigorous for the battle. While the slaves in their fields were providing sustenance for the rebel enemy, and support for their families, the rebel himself was in the army shooting down your brave and gallant men, from behind pickets, and fences, and fortifications built by negroes.
Now, my fellow-citizens, can this policy be pursued and this country be saved? [Cries, "no, no, no."] And let me tell you here that this very night, as for the last ten months, England and France are intervening, as they have been intervening all that time to favor the Southern Confederacy. We need not debate the question whether England or France will intervene. They slip their guns and munitions of war into our ports by every conceivable trick of frand and force, and what they cannot accomplish in that way, they endeavor to attain through their commercial and business houses in New Orleans, New York, or other cities of in the United States. They are intervening as much to-day as though they had declared by public proclamation, recognizing the independence of the Southern Confederacy.
Moreover, fellow-citizens, to show you the immense importance of the contest in which we are engaged, I beseech you do not flatter yourselves into the idea that the power of the South is exhausted. She has 800,000 valiant warriors in the field now, and I tell you, fellow-citizens, she can have 800,000 more. I ask, if, in view of these facts, it is not our duty to employ all the means within our reach to crush this infernal rebellion? We necessarily are compelled to have two or three men to their one, because ours is an invading army, and we have to protect the territory which we have conquered. — Let us then have no more child's play. When the present call is answered we shall have one million of men. Let us call out another million as a reserve force — let them be drilling and stand always ready for the fight — ready to occupy the posts already taken or pressing forward to hurl the thunderbolts of war. [Loud and long applause.]
But again, in this view of the case, I am for doing everything necessary not only to strengthen ourselves but to weaken the enemy. I am for laying aside every weight that shall beset us, and striking rapid and effectual blows at the rebellion.
In this view of the case, I am free to declare to you here as my honest conviction, and not as a partisan, for I know no party now, no party except my country — I am free to declare that I believe that if the slaves are set free the rebellion dies! [Applause.] While I would provide a compensation for every loyal slave owner, I would let the nations of the earth hail with gladening shouts the unfurled banner of universal emancipation, [great enthusiasm and three cheers for Governor Yates,] and as this nation in the years of the future marches down through time in glory, grandeur and power, it should never have it said that the clank of one slave's chain was to be heard upon her broad and beautiful domain. [Renewed cheering.]
You ask me what I will do with the negroes. I will answer that with a familiar text of scripture. When Moses was pursued by Pharaoh, his horsemen and chariots, and encamped by the Red Sea, the children of Israel, seeing no escape, murmured. What then did Moses say to them? "Fear ye not; stand still and see the salvation of the Lord." [Loud applause.]
Fellow-citizens, there is one thing that I do know — if there is emancipation there will not b one negro more than there is now. [Laughter applause.] I verily believe as God is my judge, and I am a Southern man too, that there is more of amalgamation, more of negro equality and negro association, more of ignorance, inhumanity, barbarism and disgrace to our national character in the negro slave than there ever would be in the negro if not subjected to the dictation, the caprices and the lusts of slave owners. [Applause, and cries of "that's true."] I cannot help but believe, my religion and most inward suggestion teaches me that a man, be he white or black, who can stand upright in the image of his God as a free man, can make as much cotton, is just as good a member of society, and will add as much respectability to the nation, as if he were a slave. [Renewed applause.]
What designs a kind Providence may have in regard to the slave, I know not. Whether driven by cruel legislation out of the States, they will seek a more congenial clime in the tropics, or whether they will be employed raising cotton, at remunerative prices, in the cotton States, or whether as they become a little more independent, they will go to Africa where the distinction of color is not against them, there to light up the flames of civilization. Christianity and Freedom in that benighted continent — whether either or these destinies may be reserved for them I do not know, but there is one thing that I do know, and that is that slavery is not only in the course of ultimate but immediate extinction. [Great applause.] If written in fire upon yonder sky, it could not more plainly to mortal sight appear than that with the vigorous policy which this government will be required to adopt in consequense of Southern madness, the freedom of the slave is no distant event. And that this policy will be adopted, I have no doubt. I know it will be adopted; I know that the President will go for this policy and save the Union. I know the people will go for this policy and then I know the politicians will sneak in. [Cheers and laughter.] You all admit, every man of you admits, that you would employ the laborers to dig trenches, to build fortifications, and as teamsters. Every man without distinction of party, admits that; do you not? [Cries of "Yes, yes."] None of you but believe in the doctrine that a negro might as well receive the bullet of the enemy as a white man. [Cries! "Good, good."] But if you employ them to dig ditches how would you hold and protect these ditches? Would you be so inhuman as to set them there digging ditches and not put arms in their hands to defend themselves. [Cries! "No, no."] How would you defend them? Would you let the enemy come and take them and the ditches or fortifications they had built? I repeat, how would you defend them? [A Voice, "Give them arms."] You must give them arms or you must have white men stand there and guard them, and I am not such a negro-worshiper, God knows, as to have white men stand between negroes and rebel bullets. [Cheers and laughter.]
There is another policy we must adopt. We must forage upon the enemy. [Applause.] But a few minutes ago, I read a letter from a gallant colonel in the field, a son of our respected chairman (Mr. Sherman,) in which he says the policy of guarding rebel property holds out inducements to treason. If the Union men have property, it is destroyed by the rebels. If the rebels have property, the Union men guard it — the rebels will not destroy it. The rebel is safe from either side. Who wouldn't be a rebel? [Laughter.] We must stop this policy. Why, I have been told that Tennessee was full of widows, nobody but widows there. You would suppose there was some deadly malaria, destructive to the life and vigor of man, but a perfect elixir of life to a woman; and every woman says she is a poor, unprotected and defenseless widow. But go out into the field and ask Sambo, and he will say, "O pshaw! massa's in the rebel army, with a knapsack strapped upon his back, shooting down your soldiers."
Now, let the Government promulgate its stern and irrevocable decree that hereafter rebel property may be seized to geed and clothe our army, and that whenever a slave, panting for liberty, comes within our ranks, he shall not be driven back to his rebel owner, but he shall be put to work, at fair wages, and arms put in his hands to defend himself while he is at work. Proclaim this edict, and these rebels will fly from the army to their homes, and soon take steps, quick and rapid "steps to the music of the Union."
Now, fellow-citizens, what policy should we pursue? Your Government is in danger — your all is at stake. Suppose a conflagration should sweep wildly over this city, until it lighted up the sky with its lurid flames and the clouds of smoke towered to the very heavens, would you stop to inquire whether it was a black man or a white man attempting to extinguish the flames. No, fellow-citizens, if you are reasonable men, if you do as every nation under the sun has done, in all the history of the past, you will employ every means in your power by which to crush this infamous and unholy rebellion.
You would deprive the enemy of every element of strength, and if necessary to save the country, you would do as Washington and Jackson and Perry did; you would convert every hoe and plough and pruning hook of the Southern slave into weapons of war — you would put swords and bayonets into the hands of every loyal man and tell him to shoot down traitors wherever their feet disgraced the sod.
When I fight I fight to whip. What nation ever adopted a different policy? Whatever, consistent with the usages of war, will weaken, or cripple, or destroy, whatever will dampen the enemies or cloud the hopes, whatever will most signally rebuke and punish the horrid crime of treason, whatever will soonest restore to my country the supremacy of law and constitutional liberty, whatever will soonest re-illume her face with the sunshine of peace and union shall have my unqualified approbation. [Applause.] If to save my country I would blot out the dark blot which has so long sullied our national escutheon, and write EMANCIPATION on every inch of her soil. [Loud cheering.]
Fellow-citizens, some distinguished American statesman and philosopher has said that every nation has its birth time and its trial time. Our trial time has come. The crisis of our national existence is upon our hands. This nation is trembling in the scale between life and death. Now, let me ask you, what course is to be pursued in such a case? Will you not come up as one man to the rescue? Behold your inheritance. Already thirty starts gleam upon your national banner, and more than half of which have been placed there since the first thirteen were placed there by our fathers — star by star being added, State after State being annexed to this confederacy — thirty millions of people destined to be one hundred millions — the inhabitants of an ocean bound Republic — with all the organized institutions of enlightened society, with all the ten thousand charms of a christian civilization, united by railroads and telegraphs, by mighty rivers and lakes into one great confederate Republic, all recognizing the great principle of the right of the majority to rule, and acknowledging no superior by God alone. [Cheers.]
Where in the world is there a country so free as this? Where has the poor man such rights franchises and privileges as in these United States of America? Why, the idea of our government, the principle upon which it is based, is the greatest good to the greatest number. — Its foundations are laid broad and deep in the inalienable rights of men. All men are brought to a level by this form of Government. Every man has a right to vote and to aspire to the highest office. The poorest boy in your midst, the son of the humblest man, can stand erect and say, "I have as good a right to be President as any other man's boy." These are the privileges held out to you by this great and glorious Government. I wish I had the power to depict the great interests, the hopes and the fears and the destinies involved in this awful contest.
Let no one dream that if this Union be dissolved we can hereafter have peace. It will be an idle dream. This government can never be reconstructed, after such a dissolution. —The mutual repulsiveness of its parts will render its disseverance eternal. Do you supposed we can ever have peace? Will you ever give up the mouth of the Mississippi? ["No, never."] Will you ever give up the navigation of the Father of Waters? ["Never, never."] I can see that before the people of Illinois will submit to navigate that noble stream with foreign batteries frowning from its banks, and subject to all the tolls, delays and exhorbitant exactions of a foreign jurisdiction, as I said in my inaugural address, before that time shall come, the Father of Waters — the Father of Waters, from its head to its mouth, shall be one continuous sepulchre of the slain. [cheers; "good, good,"] and with its cities in ruins, and the cultivated fields upon its sloping sides, laid waste — it shall roll its foaming tide in solitary grandeur as at the dawn of creation. I tell you the battles of Belmont, Island No. 10, Fort Donaldson, Pittsburg Landing, are trumpet-tongued evidences of the unalterable determination of the people of Illinois and the Northwest that the waters of the Mississippi shall never flow through a foreign jurisdiction. [Cheers.]