While the South, by political alchemy, was becoming solidified and homogeneous, a corresponding change was going on at the North. In that section the great numbers—of whom some would have re-made the Constitution, others would have agreed to peaceable separation, and still others would have made any concession to retain the integrity of the Union—now saw that these were indeed, as Jefferson Davis had said, “quack nostrums,” and that the choice lay between permitting a secession accompanied with insulting menaces and some degree of actual violence, and maintaining the Union by coercion. In this dilemma great multitudes of Northern Democrats, whose consciences had never been in the least disturbed by the existence of slavery in the country or even by efforts to extend it, became “Union men” in the Northern sense of the word, which made it about equivalent to coercionists. Their simple creed was the integrity and perpetuity of the nation.
Mr. Lincoln showed in his inaugural his accurate appreciation of the new situation. Owing all that he had become in the world to a few anti-slavery speeches, elevated to the presidency by votes which really meant little else than hostility to slavery, what was more natural than that he should at this moment revert to this great topic and make the old dispute the main part and real substance of his address? But this fatal error he avoided. With unerring judgment he dwelt little on that momentous issue which had only just been displaced, and took his stand fairly upon that still more momentous one which had so newly come up. He spoke for the Union; upon that basis a united North ought to support him; upon that basis the more northern of the slave States might remain loyal. As matter of fact, Union had suddenly become the real issue, but it needed at the hands of the President to be publicly and explicitly announced as such; this recognition was essential; he gave it on this earliest opportunity, and the announcement was the first great service of the new Republican ruler. It seems now as though he could hardly have done otherwise, or have fallen into the error of allying himself with bygone or false issues. It may be admitted that he could not have passed this new one by; but the important matter was that of proportion and relation, and in this it was easy to blunder. In truth it was a crisis when blundering was so easy that nearly all the really able men of the North had been doing it badly for three or four months past, and not a few of them were going to continue it for two or three