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Editor’s note: WND’s J.R. Nyquist is a renowned expert on
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It was a presidential election year and a threat was being made.
According to this threat, if a certain presidential candidate won the
presidency there would be a civil war and the country would be drenched
in blood. According to certain partisans, this threat was justified on
the grounds that nothing would be more degrading and humiliating than
the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln.

But the threat was not taken seriously. “The good people of the
South,” said Lincoln, “have too much good sense and good temper to
attempt the ruin of the government.” Even Lincoln’s advisers were
confident. Southerners overwhelmingly supported the Union, they
declared. Secession was the talk of a disgruntled minority.

The early returns on Election Day, Nov. 6, 1860, showed that Lincoln
had carried New England and the Northwestern states. Then came news
that Lincoln had won New York. When all the votes were counted, the
Republican candidate had carried every non-slave state except New
Jersey. But he did not carry a single state where slaves were held. In
fact, he did not even get 40 percent of the popular vote overall. In
the Electoral College, however, he won 180 out of 303 electoral votes,
and legally became the 16th president of the United States.

But the states were no longer united. Many who voted against Lincoln
would leave the Union, initiating a revolution. The wheels of this
revolution began to turn as soon as Lincoln’s victory was announced by
newspapers on Nov. 7, 1860.

What the events of 1860 and 1861 show, is that every dispute within a
country is potentially dangerous, especially when it involves the
control of the national government. In fact, when a country is divided
between two sides that cannot agree to work within the rules established
by the Constitution, political harmony breaks down. The last recourse,
in this event, is open violence. The change from harmony to violence is
gradual, involving many small steps. Consider how this worked in the
case of then-Col. Robert E. Lee.

“My little personal troubles sink into insignificance when I
contemplate the condition of the country,” wrote Lee in a letter to his
son, dated Nov. 24, 1860. In that same letter, Lee wrote, “The Southern
States seem to be in a convulsion and confidence in their securities
shaken. It is difficult to see what will be the result. …”

Observing the further progress of Lee’s concern, in a letter dated
Dec. 5, 1860, he wrote, “The derangement and confusion of business
consequent upon the political troubles of the country I apprehend will
curtail my resources.”

On Dec. 14, Lee wrote to his son about the opinion of Gen. Scruggs:
“He thinks the Union will be dissolved in six weeks. …” This was a
horrifying thought for Lee, who added, “I hope, however, the wisdom and
patriotism of the country will devise some way of saving it, and that a
kind Providence has not yet turned the current of His blessings from
us.” Lee then referred to President Buchanan’s three propositions to
save the Union as “my only hope for the preservation of the Union, and I
will cling to it to the last.”

Lee criticized the “aggression” of the Northern states, but also
wrote, “I am not pleased with the course of the ‘Cotton States,’ as they
term themselves.” Lee did not agree with the more fanatical Southern
partisans. “One of their plans,” he explained, “seems to be the renewal
of the slave trade. That I am opposed to on every ground.”

On Jan. 23, 1861, Lee mentioned George Washington. “How his spirit
would be grieved could he see the wreck of his mighty labors!”

Further explaining his sentiments in a letter of Jan. 23, 1861, Lee
wrote, “Secession is nothing but revolution.” Referring to the
Constitution of the United States, he added, “It was intended for
‘perpetual union,’ so expressed in the preamble, and for the
establishment of a government, not a compact, which can only be
dissolved by revolution, or the consent of all the people in convention
assembled.”

But then he offered the following thought: “Still, a Union that can
only be maintained by swords and bayonets … has no charm for me.”

A few months later Lee was offered the supreme command of the Union
forces by Gen. Winfield Scott. But Lee’s code of honor and loyalty
dictated that he could not lead an invasion against his own state,
Virginia. Instead, he would actively oppose the invasion as a
Confederate general.

Here we see how a patriotic American, a believer in perpetual Union,
was brought step by step to fight against that same Union. This only
goes to show that political disputes can lead to absurd and tragic
results. An argument advances toward a breakdown, then to threats,
finally to violence. Sometimes, as in the American Civil War, the best
and most noble people end up fighting on opposite sides.

What began as a presidential contest in 1860 ended with hundreds of
thousands of deaths. Great wealth was squandered. Cities were burned
to the ground. The military madness which Americans saw as common to
Europe and Asia, took them by the throat. America was not immune in
1860 and she is not immune in 2000.

Americans should always remember: The United States is neither
invincible nor unbreakable.

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