The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XVIII. Prescott and Motley

§ 18. The Causes of the Civil War

Under the stimulus of these daily reiterations, Motley wrote two long letters, to which the Times gave prominent space, on The Causes of the Civil War. They appeared on Thursday, 23 May, and Friday, 24 May, and were reprinted in New York within a few weeks. The line of argument followed was that the United States was no confederacy from which a part could be lopped and both parts continue to live. A confederation of sovereign bodies had been tested and found wanting; then a more perfect government had been formed by the people themselves, at large, not in states as units. The government to which the Constitution of the United States gave birth was different in kind from its predecessor. It could not be divided any more than Scotland could be severed from the British Empire. It was a plea for the sacredness of the Union as an organic, vitalized whole. The tariff, as an irritating cause of division, was discussed, while slavery was touched on very lightly.

The Queen’s Proclamation of Neutrality had already checked the press in its references to President Davis as precisely on a par with President Lincoln, and Motley’s words were allowed to be worth noting, as coming from one already recognized as an historian of European reputation. For a time, at least, the English newspapers changed their tone, while in America there was warm appreciation of Motley’s statement of the case.

Shortly after this incident, Motley returned home and was in Boston when the first Massachusetts regiments left their camp at Brook Farm (singularly peaceful spot for a training ground!) and marched off to war. He regretted that his fortyseven years disqualified him from enlisting without previous training, but he was stirred to the depths of his being by the emotion of the summer months of 1861. That emotion, carried abroad, kept him a fervent American during his years of foreign residence. John Bigelow considers that he was denationalized, but he was not. He only tried to hold fast to ideals crystallized at a moment of high pressure. He did not feel the meaner elements that obtruded themselves during the long-drawn-out contest.