The title of this work will produce the effect of a paradox. The general opinion is that the United States continued to pursue an upward course until the election of Mr. Lincoln, and that since then they have been declining. It is not difficult, and it is very necessary, to show that this opinion is absolutely false. Before the recent victory of the adversaries of slavery, the American Confederation, in spite of its external progress and its apparent prosperity, was suffering from a fearful malady which had well-nigh proved mortal; now, an operation has taken place, the sufferings have increased, the gravity of the situation is revealed for the first time, perhaps, to inattentive eyes. Does this mean that the situation was not grave when it did not appear so? Does this mean that we must deplore a violent crisis which alone can bring the cure?
I do not deplore it—I admire it. I recognize in this energetic reaction against the disease, the moral vigor of a people habituated to the laborious struggles of liberty. The rising of a people is one of the rarest and most marvellous prodigies presented by the annals of humanity. Ordinarily, nations that begin to decline, decline constantly more and more; a rare power of life is needed to retrieve their position, and stop in its course a decay once begun.
We have a strange way of seconding the generous enterprise into which the United States have entered with so much courage! We prophesy to them nothing but misfortunes; we almost tell them that they have ceased to exist; we give them to understand, that in electing Mr. Lincoln they have renounced their greatness; that they have precipitated themselves head foremost into an abyss; that they have ruined their prosperity, sacrificed their future, rendered henceforth impossible the magnificent character which was reserved to them. Mr. Buchanan, we seem to say, is the last President of the Union.
This, thank God, is the reverse of the truth. But lately, indeed, the United States were advancing to their ruin; but lately there was reason to mourn in thinking of them; the steps might have been counted which it remained for them to take to complete the union of their destiny with that of an accursed and perishable institution—an institution which corrupts and destroys every thing with which it comes in contact. To-day, new prospects are opening to them; they will have to combat, to labor, to suffer; the crime of a century is not repaired in a day; the right path when long forsaken is not found again without effort; guilty traditions and old complicities are not broken through without sacrifices. It is none the less true, notwithstanding, that the hour of effort and of sacrifice, grievous as it may be, is the very hour of deliverance. The election of Mr. Lincoln will be one of the great dates of American history; it closes the past, but it opens the future. With it is about to commence, if the same spirit be maintained, and if excessive concessions do not succeed in undoing all that has been done, a new era, at once purer and greater than that which has just ended.