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Salomon de Rothschild Tours America (1861)

An Armchair Jeremiah Forsees the Destruction

Baltimore, November 18, '60.

I am very glad that the political situation in Europe is now less alarming. I can't say as much for America. This great body is in the process of dissolution. You have doubtless read in the newspapers about the initial consequences of Lincoln's election; without awaiting the the definitive result, several Southern states (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi), following South Carolina's lead, have indeed seceded from the United States, and are going to form a new confederation. They haven't as yet informed the federal government of their intention, but actually they are no longer part of the Union. All the federal officers have handed in their resignations, and have not been replaced; they no longer have either senators or representatives. In Washington, they have replaced the American flag with the "Palmetto Flag," the flag of the South.

The various legislative bodies have assembled to vote on a new constitution and to clamp heavy taxes on the products of the other states. Charlestown is going to be declared a free port. Moreover, delegates have been sent to Paris to recommend the new government to the French government and to effect a new commercial treaty between the two. If this state of affairs continues, the city of New York, whose interests are intimately bound up with those of the South, will secede from the state of New York, will declare itself a free port, and will form a new, independent state uniting Staten Island, Long Island, and King County [Brooklyn]. This will hardly be able to be done except through a revolution, and will only be the last extreme. However, I don't think that there will be a civil war between the states; the separation will perhaps be able to be effected amicably.

There would probably be two ways of setting these things in order. The first (which seems impractical to me) would be for Lincoln and [Hannibal Hamlin], frightened by the political and financial crisis that their election has aroused, to resign, and for the electors to apply their votes to Bell and Everett, candidates of the fusion party of the Union.

The second expedient would be for the slave states that don't want to secede, but whose interests are akin to those of the separatist states--Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Louisiana--to intervene as mediators; they would induce the two sides to make mutual concessions.

The horizon is nonetheless as black as possible, for the political crisis has brought in its wake a financial crisis which is more violent than that of '37 or that of '57. Public funds have fallen from thirty to fifty percent. Paper notes of the first order [promissory notes] are negotiated with difficulty at one and a half percent per month. Money is being hidden and is not to be found; it is invisible. What has given immense and incalculable proportions to the catastrophe is the senseless confidence which the speculators have had for several years, the exorbitant prices to which the madness of the capitalists and of the stock market players has carried public funds and industrial stocks. What has ruined America is this limitless confidence which its inhabitants have in its strength, its power, its richness, and its vitality.

You will give me credit for the fact that I have never let myself be blinded by these appearances of prosperity and greatness, and that for months I have been predicting to you what is taking place today. Only I didn't think that my previsions would be realized so soon. I was alone in my opinion at that time, and the Americans, all optimists when it is a question of their country and themselves, laughed at my fears and my doubts.

Now it is too late to repent; half of America is ruined...

New York, December 14, '60.

Nothing new here, except that secession is being carried out and, despite the efforts of the conservative side, I don't think that there is any way to preserve the Union of the states. South Carolina will secede the eighteenth of this month; North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, at the beginning of January. Loans have been floated in all the states, and arms are being bought to repel by force any material obstacle that would subject the federal government to the wishes of the people of the South. Let us hope that the separation will be effected peaceably.

The North is beginning to become frightened, and a strong reaction is already making itself felt, but I fear that it is too late. Still, in Massachusetts, that center of abolitionism, the municipal elections of several cities have given a large majority to the Democratic Party. The "Almighty Dollar" is beginning to raise its voice louder than political sentiments.

Factories are closing down due to lack of work. Commerce is at a standstill, and thousands of people are without work. Poverty is already extreme. What will it be like in midwinter? It will be a veritable war of the poor against the rich, of the idle laborer against the owner. Then you will see how right I was when I told you several months ago that everything in the Constitution of the United States was false. How wrong were those in high position not to fear that fiery crowd which they flattered to get it to vote in the direction of their private ambition when, on the contrary, they should have acted against it with measures dictated by the simplest prudence!

The political revolution has taken place; the social revolution will follow soon. May God will that I am wrong!...

The English newspapers, which, according to their praiseworthy custom, mix into what doesn't concern them, are applauding the triumph of the Republican cause in this country, exciting the abolitionists to hold firm. What will they say when the crisis invades their country? Besides, let them muse a little on the so very happy condition of the coolies who take the place of the black slaves in the English colonies...!