The Momentous Day

New York Times editorial

November 08, 1864

The day has come–the day of fate. Before this morning’s sun sets, the destinies of this republic, so far as depends on human agency, are to be settled for weal or for woe. An inevitable choice is this day to be made by the American people, between a policy carrying salvation or a policy carrying ruin to the nation. On the one hand is war, tremendous and terrible, yet ushering in at the end every national security and glory. On the other is the mocking shadow of a peace, tempting us to quit these sacrifices, and sink again into indulgence, and yet sure to rob us of our birthright, and to entail upon our children a dissevered Union and ceaseless strife. As the popular decision of this day is rendered in favor of the principles declared at Baltimore, or the principles declared at Chicago, so must either this or that consequence follow. The two men for whom the votes are to be cast are nothing in the presence of this mighty issue. Whatever their respective merits or faults, and however legitimately these, in ordinary times, might determine which of the two should be accepted and which rejected, such personal considerations are but as the dust in the balance when policies of such dread import are to be weighed.… GEORGE B. McCLELLAN might be all that his most extravagant admirers claim him to be, and a thousand times beyond, and yet he would be as helpless as an infant to stay the destruction of the Union in the line of the policy marked out for him by his party at Chicago. It is not within the power of mortal man to abandon the war at this stage, and make terms with the rebellion that will not involve the wreck of all that constitutes us a nation. Every man that casts his vote to-day should keep his eyes on this mighty fact. His choice is to be made, not between persons but between policies. The sovereign question is whether this rebellion, which is assailing the life of the Union, is to be dealt with on the principle of maintaining the national authority, or on the principle of surrendering it–in other words, whether we are to have stability through the ascendancy of law, or subversion through the triumph of lawlessness. We are making this decision not for ourselves simply. We are settling the lot of the generations that shall come after us….

It is almost appalling to reflect that such stupendous interests, stretching far into the coming years, must depend upon our faithfulness or unfaithfulness; our discretion or indiscretion, within the next ten hours. Could the consequences of our doings this day be realized in all their full scope, the universal feeling would be that finite hands are not fit for such measureless trusts, and the universal impulse would be to look for some miraculous direction from Heaven. But no such direction is needed if we will but faithfully exercise the attributes of our nature that come from Heaven–our reason and conscience. It is the faith that the majority of the American people will so do, which gives this day its bright promise as a day that will be forever memorable for the reaffirmation and reconsecration of the great principles which alone make a free government possible among men.

TeachingAmericanHistory.org is a project of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University

401 College Avenue | Ashland, Ohio 44805 (419) 289-5411 | (877) 289-5411 (Toll Free)

info@TeachingAmericanHistory.org