On this day 150 years ago, Friedrich Engels, then a millworker in Manchester, England, wrote a letter to his friend Karl Marx, the London correspondent for an Austrian newspaper. The subject was the midterm elections in the United States, which—as midterms so often do—were reflecting discontent with the sitting president, Abraham Lincoln. The Democrats wanted peace and the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, issued after the Union victory at Antietam, seemed to be having an effect only inasmuch as it was helping the Democrats. Poor Engels! You can see how he struggles between wanting to see that “bourgeois republic,” the United States, defeated and some justice in the fight against that “lousy oligarchy” in the South. Why couldn’t he have it both ways?
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 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 proves itself just as strong as the unwieldy, great, helpless democracy. For the rest, if the Democrats triumph, the worthy McClellan 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 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.
SOURCE: Robin Blackburn, ed., An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln (2011) (h/t)
IMAGE: Marx and Engels