“Because I love the South, I rejoice in the failure of the Confederacy.”–Woodrow Wilson #wilsonquotes #civilwar
March 1880–An Essay on John Bright
Before his career as a politician and reformer, Wilson was a prolific scholar and writer. This particular excerpt comes from Wilson’s biographical sketch of John Bright, a mid-to-late-nineteenth century British reformer. Bright was a member of the British government for over forty years and became known for his fight for free trade and against price protections for “British landed interests.” Bright was also instrumental in ensuring Parliament would become a more democratically representative institution.
Of interest here is Wilson’s sidebar note on the Confederacy. Wilson reveals himself as a proud supporter of the Confederate cause and Southerner beyond question, although he recognizes Southern defeat was better in the long term. However, Wilson does indeed recognize that the perpetuation of slavery would have been of negative consequence for the South. Slavery exhausted resources, and the agricultural economy of the South had reached an impasse. According to Wilson, Northern industry would have eventually overtaken the South.
On the other hand, Wilson pays homage to the leaders of secession and their “purity of purpose,” “the righteousness of the cause which they thought they were promoting,” and the Confederate soldiers who lost their lives. Wilson criticizes Bright for his interpretation of secession, claiming Bright did not fully understand the “doctrine of States Rights.” Interestingly enough, nothing is said to address the impact of slavery and freedom upon African-Americans; Wilson only mentions the impact of slavery upon the economy.
“I yield to no one precedence in love for the South. But because I love the South, I rejoice in the failure of the Confederacy. Suppose that secession had been accomplished?…The perpetuation of slavery would, beyond all question, have wrecked our agricultural and commercial interests, at the same time that it supplied a fruitful source of irritation abroad and agitation within…We cannot conceal from ourselves the fact that the Northern union would have continued stronger than we, and always ready to use her strength to compass our destruction. With this double certainty, then, of weakness and danger, our future would have been more than dark; it would have been inevitably and overwhelmingly disastrous.”
An Essay on John Bright appearing in Virginia University Magazine in March 1880. The essay is included in Woodrow Wilson: Essential Writings and Speeches of the Scholar-President edited by Mario Di Nunzio, available on Google books here.