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William Baxter
Life of Elder Walter Scott (1874)


C H A P T E R   X X V I I I.

Deeply concerned at the prospect of Disunion--His argument for union--His great grief at the
      prevailing troubles.

T HE letter with which the last chapter closes was written in the spring of 1860, when Scott was over three-score; he was, however, still active, still planning deeds of toil and usefulness, and gave every indication that he intended the last enemy should find him at his post with his armor on. His power in the pulpit seemed to be scarcely abated, and the productions of his pen possessed much of the freshness and vigor of his early days.

      During the thirty years that had passed since he first went before the public with his plea for a return to the simplicity of the primitive gospel, the Disciples from a handful had become a multitude, and the principles for which he had battled so long and well were widely spread and firmly established. Every-where through the West the results of his labors were apparent; and the churches he had established on the Western Reserve were exercising a commanding influence in the respective communities in which they were located, and no reformer of modern times ever saw so rich a harvest as did he, from the seed which was sown in tears. Many of his converts had become able and successful preachers, and though one by one his old companions in toil were gathered to their rest, [431] there was every prospect that the work which was left to younger hands would be well done. Honor and glad welcome now greeted him where persecution and misrepresentation had formerly been encountered, and his heart was gladdened by seeing his spiritual children walking and rejoicing in the truth. When he met with his surviving fellow-laborers, it was pleasant to talk of trials past and battles won, and almost inspired the wish that youth might be renewed, to pass again through the trials it was so sweet to remember. An instance of this is related by his life-long friend and fellow-laborer Elder James Challen. He says: "I met Bro. Scott on Main Street, Cincinnati; he was in quite a meditative mood, and was evidently thinking of approaching old age and the decay of his powers and the feebleness it would bring. I roused him from his reverie by referring to the trials and triumphs of the past; when, with tears in his eyes, and with touching pathos and sublimity, he said: 'Oh, brother Challen, I wish that I were young again; I would fight my way onward and upward from the river to the hills.'"

      But he was not destined to feel the decay of his powers, which at such moments he seemed to fear, for the end came before his energies gave evidence of any great and sad decline, and had that end come but a few months sooner he would have escaped one of the greatest sorrows that his heart ever felt. This great trouble was the sad state of the country which soon culminated in disunion and a civil war.

      As already intimated, he was a great lover of American institutions; under them the human mind had freer scope than it had ever enjoyed before; there [432] were no alliances or entanglements between the church and State, no religion established by law; and hence he deemed that Christianity, had never enjoyed such an opportunity to prove her sovereignty, and he cherished the hope that under such favorable circumstances she would do more than ever in subduing mankind to God. These hopes were suddenly and rudely dissipated by the rupture between the States which followed the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency in the fall of 1860, and no one felt more keenly or deplored more deeply the state of things which then prevailed than Elder Scott.

      His sorrow, however, did not unman him, but, on the contrary, aroused him to do all in his power, as a man and a Christian, to avert the dangers which threatened. He wrote and spoke much with regard to the state of the country, with great force and eloquence; and while he was the unswerving friend of the Government, he never permitted the Christian to be lost in the politician--never gave utterance to an unseemly or blood-thirsty expression; his views of the nature of the contest so near at hand were far clearer than those of most men of his time; he loved not strife, but he saw that it was inevitable; he neither sought nor desired to be neutral, and he left behind him a record that will ever stamp him as a Christian patriot. His friends North and South were numbered by tens of thousands, and to them he addressed a well considered and carefully written expression of his views on the great questions of the hour. This essay, called the "Crisis," was publicly read on several occasions, and was warmly approved, but, by a policy which was unjust to Scott, it was denied a [433] place on the pages of a periodical which would have brought it before thousands of those who knew him best, and who would have been most likely to have been benefited by his earnest and truthful words. It is extremely doubtful whether the matters at issue at that time were ever more ably or eloquently set forth than in the essay under consideration, and it is very certain that those questions were never discussed in a better temper and spirit. Nothing of the partisan or demagogue appears in it, but a clear head and a kind heart are every-where discoverable. The document is too long for insertion entire, yet his life would be imperfect without some notice of his views on a subject of such grave importance, and we therefore give a few of the introductory pages from which to judge the whole:

      "Brethren and fellow-citizens: Though as professors of the glorious gospel, we may and ought to hold ourselves aloof from the defiling influences of party politics, we may not with impunity, I apprehend, voluntarily shut our eyes and ears on the nature of the political system under which we live, and simply because we are Christians remain both deaf and blind to its workings for good and for evil. If I thought otherwise, certain I am that my convictions would receive no support or countenance from the example of our great apostle Paul, who, in all his conflicts with his countrymen and the Gentiles, exhibited a consummate knowledge of the Roman and Jewish laws under which he lived. This is evident in his speeches before the magistrates of Philippi, before the Roman captain Lysias, the Jewish high priest, Festus, and King Agrippa.

      "Brethren and fellow-citizens: Fraternal ties are being sundered, and sundered, I fear, forever. The Northern [434] and Southern sections of our illustrious Republic, hitherto nurtured, like twin sisters, at the breast of the same magna mater virum,a purpose to discard the fraternal relation, and, as distinct nations, stand in future to each other in the relations of peace or war, blood or gain. Some good-natured but not far-seeing men imagine that our Federal difficulties will disappear as certainly and suddenly as they were suddenly and unexpectedly developed. God grant they may; but brothers' quarrels are not lovers' quarrels, and it requires but little logic to foresee that, unless the black cloud that at present overhangs the great Republic is speedily buried in the deep bosom of the ocean, it will finally rain down war, bloodshed, and death on these hitherto peaceful and delightful lands.

      "Brethren, I thought it might shed a salutary influence on your bleeding hearts to submit to you, in the tranquillity of a written and read oration, an exhibit of our public affairs as they have, at this distracted crisis, impressed themselves on my own understanding and heart. I say 'my heart,' for God is witness to the floods of bitter tears I have shed over the disruption of our Federal Government.

      "I thought that, your fears being soothed by the consideration that 'all is not lost that is in danger,' I might intercede with you to continue your prayer to God in behalf of the Republic; that he would have this great nation in his holy keeping; that he would preserve the Union in its integrity; that he would impart wisdom to our conservative statesmen; defeat the counsels of our Ahithophels, and cause this magnificent and unparalleled government to remain 'one and indivisible, now and forever!'

      "Union! But first of Union. Union is of two sorts at least; namely, organic or inorganic--i. e., systematic or numerical. Systematic union is seen in plants, animal, [435] and man, in whose person each particular member is formed with relations to all the rest and to a vital center. We see what numerical union is when we look upon the particles that go to make up a cup of water or a hillock of sand, between which there is no systematic, no organic adhesion, no relation of the molecules or atoms to a vital center. Now, our States are not put up as a hillock of sand, but, like one of the natural systems, with parts formed with relations to each other and to a great living center--the United States Government. But, to illustrate, let us draw upon the analogies of nature. The solar system is not a dark, formless, chaotic mass such as it once was, before the great Creator said, 'Let there be light,' but is a grand, magnificent induction of material orbs and influences, of which the great generality or center is the sun himself. Analogous to this, the United States is an induction of political powers and personages of which the Federal Government is the great generality or center. These two orders of things, the material and the social, are therefore put up systematically; that is, in the solar system, for instance, each particular planet is formed with solar relations; that is, each is formed with relations to the sun's structure. Their natural necessities, which are darkness, coldness, desolation, and death, are therefore anticipated and met by the effulgence of the sun, his warmth, fruitfulness, and amazing wealth of vitality. The planets are, therefore, all great in the sun's greatness, all renowned in his renown, all resplendent in his splendor, all glorified in his glory. This is stable, permanent, systematic union.

      "Analogous to the material, in our political system each particular State is formed with federal relations. Every one of them is politically constructed with a reference to the structure of the general Constitution; and all their political necessities, which are weakness, defenselessness, liability to revolution, and extinction, are met by [436] the power, war ordinance, stability, and vast vitality of the Federal Government. In the greatness of the General Government each State is great; in its renown, each State is renowned; in its grandeur each is grand; in its splendor each is splendid; in its glory each is glorified. This is systematic political union. Shall it be stable, permanent, enduring?

      "We have, then, already reached what a great philosopher calls a 'vantage ground,' a summit, a point of elevation in our argument for union. Here we may for a moment halt and look around us. First, we have seen that the American political system is not unsupported by the analogies of science. Second, we have seen that the United States Government is not like the center of a heap of sand or a superficies, a mere index point without magnitude, parts, or power, but, like the center of the solar system, is the center of a solidarity of States with powers to crush all foreign foes. Hence the confederation is called the 'United States.' Admit secession to be a law or right, the confederation is at once transfigured into a simple aggregation, and would then more fitly be called the 'Disunited States.' Third, I infer that the States being organic, a body politic, a confederation, a constitutional order of things, no single member can more legitimately divorce itself from the central government than can the central government legitimately divorce itself from the single State. 'The one can not say to the other, I have no need of thee.' Fourth, all science is founded an the stability of nature. If the course of nature were not the same to-day as it was yesterday, or not to-morrow what it is to-day, all confidence would be lost; but science and the safety of all God's creatures require that the course of nature should be uniform; and so it is. We look to the sapphire heaven, and at night see hung forth there the same starry jewelry at which father Abraham gazed with admiration, when the great Creator said to him, 'So shall thy seed be.' The same sun and [437] moon to which Joshua said, 'Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou moon in the valley of Ajalon,' enlighten us as they enlightened him. Hence, if secession is true, the United States Government is unsupported by the analogies of nature. For, instead of being like nature, uniform, stable, permanent, safe, and reliable, constantly subject to secession with impunity, it must ever be weak, unstable, the least permanent; the least reliable, and most uncertain of all kinds of government. No one will deny that it is the rarest and most perfect piece of political workmanship ever framed by man, and that from amidst the planetary States by which it has hitherto men encircled, it looked forth upon the benighted nations, with sun-bright glory cheering our sin-oppressed nature, over the wide world, with high hopes of freedom, security, and an endless progress in science, art, and our blessed Christianity. But the doctrine of secession has shorn it of half its beams, so that our grand government, instead of reminding us of the sun of the natural world going forth from the orient with strength and shaking his yellow locks round half the world at once, rather suggests to us the doleful apocalyptic vision, when the third part of the sun was smitten, and a great angel flying in the midst of heaven was heard to cry, with a loud voice, 'Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth!'

      "I admit there are, and perhaps ever must be, blemishes in all human governments, for there are spots in the sun, and in the system of which he is the center, the planets, as in their "bulging,' sometimes exert a disturbing influence and draw each other for a brief space somewhat from their straightforward course in their orbits; but the unity, harmony, and integrity of the solar system is maintained nevertheless. The doctrine of secession is unknown in the heavens. If it is so in God's works; if there are spots in the sun, and disturbing influences in the system of which he is the center, we do not expect it to be otherwise in [438] man's works; we do not expect the human to excel the divine government, nature, or man his Maker; but we do expect that, though blemishes are seen on our body politic, and disturbing forces spring upon us unawares and produce for a moment slight aberrations from the straightforward course, that there shall be no doctrine of secession accepted by the people; and that, despite imperfections which attaches to all human institutions, our hitherto glorious government will maintain its unity, harmony, and integrity, these evils to the contrary notwithstanding. We may, however, imagine one of the planets to dissolve the bands by which it is united to the solar center of light, warmth, and life, and run lawlessly through the heavens, but could it do so without inflicting irreparable injury upon other orbs or being itself at last destroyed? Can, then, one or more of our States sever the bands which unite it to the central government without inflicting on other States irreparable damage or being itself destroyed? We shall see.

      "But, to conclude my argument for union and against secession, before I detail those causes which have led to secession, allow me to say, finally, that, as in the astronomical system there is a tendency in each planet to fly off in the direction of centrifugal force, and nothing prevents it from doing so but the centripetal or solar power, so man, being created with dominion, having in him an innate love of independence, he is in danger of revolting and flying off in the direction of this inborn ambition, and so of inflicting unspeakable evils on society. Zenophon said he had observed that herds were more ready to obey their masters than men their magistrates. Unless, therefore, this spirit is checked and man's executiveness is placed under the restraints of wholesome laws vigorously enforced, anarchy will ensue; but any kind of government is better than anarchy. The government, therefore, that will not, with all its force, in defiance of all obstacles, put down [439] anarchy and the doctrine that leads to it, ought itself to be put down, as men are more ready to follow a bad example than attend to a good precept. If this course is not pursued with personages working treason, others will imitate their insurrectionary precedent, till the infection of revolt spreading far and wide among the people, our Union will be dissolved and the United States Government perish in the whirlpool of bloody revolution. With this view of things, it would be impossible for me to admit the legitimacy of secession, unless I could also admit that the United States Constitution contemplated its own future destruction and provided for it, which is absurd.

      "Such, then, is our argument against SECESSION and in behalf of UNION as it has been, and as I hope it may again be. We have seen that our politics are a system supported by the analogies of nature, and that those who constructed that system could not possibly have intended to make any provision for its overthrow, such as is secession, but must have designed it to be 'one and indivisible, now and forever.'"b

      At the time the preceding sentiments were penned, while the worst was to be feared from the great agitation both at the North and the South, the worst had not yet come. Mr. Scott, however, was far-sighted enough to see that the threatened disruption would not be a bloodless one, and the prospect overwhelmed him with grief. His letters at this period reveal fully the state of his mind. In one of them, addressed to his eldest son, he writes:

      "I thank God that I have a son who fears the Most High, and who loves 'his own, his native land.' Your sentiments and feelings touching the Federal Government [440] and the Union of all the States are so perfectly identical with my own, that I need not rehearse them. You say: 'I am so disheartened and cast down, so overwhelmed with the general gloom that overspreads my dear, my native land, that I can scarcely think of any thing else.' These words, my son, precisely describe my state of mind. I can think of nothing but the sorrows and dangers of my most beloved adopted country. God is witness to my tears and grief. I am cast down, I am afflicted, I am all broken to pieces. My confidence in man is gone. May the Father of mercies show us mercy! Mine eye runneth down with grief. In the Revolution, God gave us a man equal to the occasion; but at this gloomy crisis such a man is wanting; let us look to God, then. There was a time in ancient Israel's misfortunes when God looked for such a man, a man equal to the crisis, but there was none. 'I looked,' he says, 'and there was none to save, and I wondered there were none to uphold, therefore mine own arm brought salvation to me, and my fury it upheld me.' Let us pray unceasingly, and trust it will be so now--trust that his own arm will bring salvation. Oh, that it might; that all the glory may be his!

      "You ask if I think the Lord will interfere in our behalf? I answer, that unless he has decided to destroy us as a nation, he will interfere and rescue us from the impending vengeance. Let us, my son, be as Moses in the case, and cease not to invoke his interference in our behalf. Let us be earnest for our dear country. I had thought that in my prayers none could insinuate themselves between me and my dear children, but believe me, my son, even my own dear flesh and blood has given way to my patriotism--my country. Hence, you will infer what earnest grief inspires my supplications for the Republic. On Friday, let us go before the Lord fasting, and, humbling ourselves before the blessed God, confess, in behalf both of ourselves and our [441] dear country, all our sins, and determine, with his help, to reform in all things. Let us say, with that great servant of the Lord, Moses, 'If thou wilt slay all this people, blot me out of thy book of life.' For all the nations will hear and say that it was because the Lord wanted to destroy them that he gave them their great inheritance. Oh, that the Lord would forgive the nation and heal the dreadful and ghastly wound that has been inflicted on the body of the Republic."

      Such were the feelings which overflowed from his pious and patriotic hart abut the close of the year 1860, when only one State had seceded, when as yet no blow had been struck, when no blood had been shed. [442]

      a Latin, "great mother of man." [E.S.]
      b Walter Scott. "The Crisis." Source undetermined. [E.S.]


[LEWS 431-442]

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William Baxter
Life of Elder Walter Scott (1874)