Engels to Marx on the 1862 Elections: American Ideals and Union Hang in the Balance
On November 15, 1862, Friedrich Engels wrote a letter to his friend Karl Marx on the nature of the Civil War in the months following the announcement of Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. At the time, Engels was working in his father’s mill in Manchester, England and Marx was the London correspondent for the Viennese newspaper Die Presse. Engels expresses apprehension regarding the upcoming off-year elections in New York believing that a Democratic victory would undermine Lincoln’s war effort and constitute a retreat from America’s fundamental ideals. (The
Democrats were, indeed, victorious in New York that fall.) He also refers to a concern that a Negro exodus into “the Northwest” would cause Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana to vote for McClellan and his policy of peace.
“I impatiently await the steamer that is bringing news of the New York elections. If the Democrats triumph in the State of New York, then I no longer know what I am to think of the Yankees. That a people placed in a great historical dilemma, which is at the same time a matter of its own existence, can after eighteen months’ struggle become reactionary in its mass and vote for climbing down is a bit beyond my understanding. Good as it is from one aspect that even in America the bourgeois republic exposes itself in thoroughgoing fashion, so that in the future it can never again be preached on its own merits, but solely as a means, and a form of transition, to the social
revolution, still it is mortifying that a lousy oligarchy with only half the number of inhabitants [the Confederacy] proves itself just as strong as the unwieldy, great, helpless democracy [the United States]. For the rest, if the Democrats triumph, the worthy [former general George B.] McClellan [Democratic party leader seeking a negotiated peace] and the West Pointers, have the better of it most beautifully, and its glory will soon be at an end. The fellows are capable of concluding peace, if the South returns to the Union on condition that the President shall always be a Southerner and the Congress shall always consist of Southerners and Northerners in equal numbers. They are even capable of proclaiming Jeff Davis President of the United States forthwith and to surrender [to the Confederacy] even the whole of the border states, if there is no other way to peace. Then, good-bye America.
“Of Lincoln’s emancipation, likewise, one still sees no effect up to the present, save that from fear of a Negro inundation the Northwest has voted Democratic.”
– Submitted by Dwight Pitcaithley, New Mexico State University
Robin Blackburn, ed., An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln (London: Verso, 2011), 200-201.