The Voice of the People

Chicago Tribune editorial

November 18, 1864

In any country no true statesman would fail in deciding upon the policy of the administration, to observe carefully the changes in public sentiment, and to mould his measures to suit the demands of the people. This course of action, the dictate of the soundest political sagacity under every government, is a supreme duty with us, who hold the will and choice of the people to be the source of all power, and to be diligently sought for, and faithfully and intently obeyed as soon as pronounced. It is not always easy to ascertain what public sentiment is, and after an election involving many and various questions and issues, the most candid and fair minds may differ as to the meaning and extent of the popular decision.… It is often difficult to ascertain on what subject the popular opinion is united, and in regard to what question its decision is unanimous and determined. As regards the election just terminated, very few if any can be found who doubt that the people have voted with an overwhelming majority, that the rebellion must be subdued by force, that there shall be no compromise or armistice with rebels in arms, that the Union must be restored, and the authority of the Government re-established to its extreme bounds; of the will and determination of the people on all these issues there can be no doubt. There is another subject, that of slavery, which has been a controling one in the canvass, as it always has and will be so long as it exists, and it is most important to know what judgement and purpose the people have expressed at the polls respecting it. If the platform of the party who have been so triumphantly sustained by the people, is to be taken as proof of the popular determination, then beyond a doubt the people demand the destruction of slavery, as the deadliest foe to the country, and the real life and support of the rebellion.

The Administration would be false to its avowed purposes, as given in the platform, and to its solemn pledges to the country, and to the loyal men who re-elected it, if it hesitated or swerved in carrying out a thorough emancipation policy. As regards the form in which such policy could most safely and wisely be carried out, whether it should be immediate or gradual, and under what conditions, securing the most advantage to the slave, or the least injury to the slaveholding sections, there may be room for discussion. But we feel sure that the people who have voted with such unparalleled unanimity to continue the policy of the present Administration, intended to say, and have most emphatically declared, that they believe slavery to be in all ages bad and mischievous; that it was the source of the rebellion, and is now its chief strength and support; that we can have no permanent Union and no enduring peace until it is destroyed; and they demand of their rulers that it shall be extinguished. Of the mode and manner of its taking off, it may be difficult to ascertain any definite expression of the popular voice; but if this popular verdict has any clear meaning at all, its voice rings out in the loudest tones an utter condemnation of slavery, and a demand that it shall be utterly destroyed.

It is well known that one of the strongest points made by the Opposition against the re-election of Lincoln was, that his avowed purpose was to make no peace with the rebels unless they would first consent to the abolition of slavery, rendered it impossible for him ever to subdue the rebellion or end the war. While the policy of the Opposition was to re-establish State Sovereignty, with additional guarantys, meaning slavery.… If there was any one single issue which, by the unending and most strenuous efforts of the opposition was most distinctly drawn and plainly presented, it was whether the people of this country would vote for the Lincoln policy to carry on the war, not to save the Union, but to destroy slavery. And the people have recorded their answer, by reelecting Lincoln. There can be no doubt that on this issue the opposition was overwhelmingly defeated. The meaning of the election is, the people have made up their minds that slavery, and the Union with peace, cannot exist together, and they demand the destruction of slavery.

Whatever may be the danger of making the South a united and compact mass, and rousing in them an unconquerable and most malignant fury, if you strike slavery, the people of the North, in full view of all the danger, have emphatically pronounced their determination, that the country cannot be saved unless slavery be destroyed; and whatever may be the cost or sacrifice in blood or treasure, that the war shall go on until both rebellion and slavery are wholly crushed out and ended. The conviction has been growing and ripening with wondrous rapidity in the hot air of this great conflict, that slavery is the life and strength of the rebellion, and that there is no way in which to end rebellion and save the Union but by the utter extinction of slavery, and the overwhelming result of the election is simply the formal utterance of that conviction.

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