I have already suggested that it was the irresponsibility and the evasions of the party politicians, which threw upon the Abolitionists the duty of fighting slavery as an undemocratic institution. They took up the cause of the negro in a spirit of religious self-consecration. The prevalence of irresolution and timidity in relation to slavery among the leaders of public opinion incited the Abolitionists to a high degree of courage and exclusive devotion; and unfortunately, also, the conciliating attitude of the official leaders encouraged on the part of the Abolitionists an outburst of fanaticism. In their devotion to their adopted cause they lost all sense of proportion, all balance of judgment, and all justice of perception; and their narrowness and want of balance is in itself a sufficient indication that they were possessed of a half, instead of a whole, truth.
The fact that the Abolitionists were disinterested and for a while persecuted men should not prevent the present generation from putting a just estimate on their work. While they redeemed the honor of their country by assuming a grave and hard national responsibility, they sought to meet that responsibility in a way that would have destroyed their country. The Abolitionists, no less than the Southerners, were tearing at the fabric of American nationality. They did it, no doubt, in the name of democracy; but of all perverted conceptions of democracy, one of the most perverted and dangerous is that which identifies it exclusively with a system of natural rights. Such a conception of democracy is in its effect inevitably revolutionary, and merely loosens the social and national bond. In the present instance they were betrayed into one of the worst possible sins against the national bond—into the sin of doing a gross personal injustice to a large group of their fellow-countrymen. Inasmuch as the Southerners were willfully violating a Divine law, they became in the eyes of the Abolitionists, not merely mis-guided, but wicked, men; and the Abolitionists did not scruple to speak of them as unclean beasts, who were fattening on the fruits of an iniquitous institution. But such an inference was palpably false. The Southern slave owners were not unclean beasts; and any theory which justified such an inference must be erroneous. They were, for the most part, estimable if somewhat quick-tempered and irascible gentlemen, who did much to mitigate the evils of negro servitude, and who were on the whole liked rather than disliked by their bondsmen. They were right, moreover, in believing that the negroes were a race possessed of moral and intellectual qualities inferior to those of the white men; and, however much they overworked their conviction of negro inferiority, they could clearly see that the Abolitionists were applying a narrow and perverted political theory to a complicated and delicate set of economic and social conditions. It is no wonder, consequently, that they did not submit