Articles by Karl Marx in Die Presse 1862

Comments on the North American Events

Source: MECW Volume 19, p. 248;
Written: on October 7, 1862;
First published: in Die Presse, October 12, 1862.

The short campaign in Maryland has decided the fate of the American Civil War, however much the fortune of war may still vacillate between the opposing parties for a shorter or longer time. As we have already stated in this newspaper, the fight for the possession of the border slave states is a fight for the domination over the Union, and the Confederacy has been defeated in this fight, which it started under extremely favourable circumstances that are not likely ever to occur again.

Maryland was rightly considered the head and Kentucky the arm of the slaveholders’ party in the border states. Maryland’s capital, Baltimore, has been kept “loyal” up to now only by martial law. It was a dogma not only in the South but also in the North that the arrival of the Confederates in Maryland would be the signal for a popular rising en masse against “Lincoln’s satellites”. Here it was not only a question of a military success but also of a moral demonstration which was expected to electrify the Southern elements in all the border states and to draw them forcefully into the vortex.

With Maryland Washington would fall, Philadelphia would be menaced and New York would no longer be safe. The invasion of Kentucky, the most important of the border states owing to the size of its population, its situation and its economic resources, which took place simultaneously, was, considered in isolation, merely a diversion. But supported by decisive success in Maryland, it could have crushed the Union party in Tennessee, outflanked Missouri, protected Arkansas and Texas, threatened New Orleans, and above all shifted the theatre of war to Ohio, the central state of the North, whose possession spells the subjugation of the North just as the possession of Georgia spells that of the South. A Confederate army in Ohio would cut off the West of the Northern states from the East and fight the enemy from his own centre. After the fiasco of the rebels’ main army in Maryland, the invasion of Kentucky which was not pressing ahead with sufficient drive and was nowhere supported by popular sympathy, was reduced to an insignificant guerilla attack. Even the occupation of Louisville would now only unite the “Great West”, the legions from Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, so that they would form an “avalanche” similar to that which crashed down on the South during the first glorious Kentucky campaign.

The Maryland campaign has thus proved that the waves of secession lack the power to roll over the Potomac and reach the Ohio. The South has been reduced to the defensive, but offensive operations were its only chance of success. Deprived of the border states and hemmed in by the Mississippi in the west and the Atlantic in the east, the South has conquered nothing — but a graveyard.

One must not forget even for a moment that, when the Southerners hoisted the banner of rebellion, they held the border states and dominated them politically. What they demanded were the Territories. They have lost both the Territories and the border states.

Nevertheless, the invasion of Maryland was risked at a most favourable conjuncture. The North had suffered a disgraceful series of quite unprecedented defeats, the Federal army was demoralised, Stonewall Jackson the hero of the day, Lincoln and his government a universal laughing-stock, the Democratic Party, strong again in the North and people expecting Jefferson Davis to become president, France and England were openly preparing to proclaim the legitimacy — already recognised at home-of the slaveholders. “E pur si muove.” Reason nevertheless prevails in world history.

Lincoln’s proclamation is even more important than the Maryland campaign. Lincoln is a sui generis figure in the annals of history. fie has no initiative, no idealistic impetus, cothurnus, no historical trappings. He gives his most important actions always the most commonplace form. Other people claim to be “fighting for an idea”, when it is for them a matter of square feet of land. Lincoln, even when he is motivated by, an idea, talks about “square feet”. He sings the bravura aria of his part hesitatively, reluctantly and unwillingly, as though apologising for being compelled by circumstances “to act the lion”. The most redoubtable decrees — which will always remain remarkable historical documents-flung by him at the enemy all look like, and are intended to look like, routine summonses sent by a lawyer to the lawyer of the opposing party, legal chicaneries, involved, hidebound actiones juris. His latest proclamation, which is drafted in the same style, the manifesto abolishing slavery, is the most important document in American history since the establishment of the Union, tantamount to the tearing tip of the old American Constitution.

Nothing is simpler than to show that Lincoln’s principal political actions contain much that is aesthetically. repulsive, logically inadequate, farcical in form and politically, contradictory, as is done by, the English Pindars of slavery, The Times, The Saturday Review and tutti quanti. But Lincoln’s place in the history of the United States and of mankind will, nevertheless, be next to that of Washington! Nowadays, when the insignificant struts about melodramatically on this side of the Atlantic, is it of no significance at all that the significant is clothed in everyday dress in the new world?

Lincoln is not the product of a popular revolution. This plebeian, who worked his way tip from stone-breaker to Senator in Illinois, without intellectual brilliance, without a particularly outstanding character, without exceptional importance-an average person of good will, was placed at the top by the interplay of the forces of universal suffrage unaware of the great issues at stake. The new world has never achieved a greater triumph than by this demonstration that, given its political and social organisation, ordinary people of good will can accomplish feats which only heroes could accomplish in the old world!

Hegel once observed that comedy is in act superior to tragedy and humourous reasoning superior to grandiloquent reasoning.[Lectures on Aesthetics] Although Lincoln does riot possess the grandiloquence of historical action, as an average man of the people he has its humour. When (foes he issue the proclamation declaring that from January 1, 1863, slavery in the. Confederacy shall be abolished At the very moment when the Confederacy as an independent state decided on “peace negotiations- at its Richmond Congress. At the very, moment when the slave-owners of the border states believed that the invasion of Kentucky by the armies of the South had made “the peculiar institution” just as safe as was their domination over their compatriot, President Abraham Lincoln in Washington.