And to those Americans of all classes and in all districts of the North, who had set their hearts and were giving all they had to give to preserve the life of the nation, the political crisis of 1864 would seem to have been the most anxious moment of the war. It is impossible—it must be repeated—to guess how great the danger really was that their popular government might in the result betray the true and underlying will of the people; for in any country (and in America perhaps more than most) the average of politicians, whose voices are most loudly heard, can only in a rough and approximate fashion be representative. But there is in any case no cause for surprise that the North should at one time have trembled. Historic imagination is easily, though not one whit too deeply, moved by the heroic stand of the South. It is only after the effort to understand the light in which the task of the North has presented itself to capable soldiers, that a civilian can perceive what sustained resolution was required if, though far the stronger, it was to make its strength tell. Notwithstanding the somewhat painful impression which the political chronicle of this time at some points gives, it is the fact that the wisest Englishmen who were in those days in America and had means of observing what passed have retained a lasting sense of the constancy, under trial, of the North.
On December 6, 1864, Lincoln sent the last of his Annual Messages to Congress. He treated as matter for oblivion the “impugning of motives and heated controversy as to the proper means of advancing the Union cause,” which had played so large a part in the Presidential election and the other elections of the autumn. For, as he said, “on the distinct issue of Union or no Union the politicians have shown their instinctive knowledge that there is no diversity among the people.” This was accurate as well as generous, for though many Democrats had opposed the war, none had avowed that for the sake of peace he would give up the Union. Passing then to the means by which the Union could be made to prevail he wrote: “On careful consideration of all the evidence accessible it seems to me that no attempt at negotiation with the insurgent leader could result in any good. He would accept nothing short of severance of the Union—precisely what we will not and cannot give. Between him and us the issue is distinct, simple, and inflexible. It is an issue which can only be tried by war and decided by victory. The abandonment of armed resistance to the national authority on the part of the insurgents is the only indispensable condition to ending the war on the part of the Government.” To avoid a possible misunderstanding he added that not a single person who was free by the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation or of any Act of Congress would be returned to slavery while he held the executive