“Let Reason, Not Passion, Rule” in the Aftermath of Fort Sumter


A chromolithograph of the firing on Fort Sumter. Courtesy of Accessible Archives.

Less than one week after the momentous firing upon Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, the Glasgow Times (Glasgow, Missouri) published an editorial about the importance of remaining cool in times of “popular excitement.” More importantly, however, the editorial argues for maintaining the peace and staying neutral. In fact, in the presidential election of 1860, just a mere six months before, the majority of Missourians (70.8%) supported the preservation of slavery and the Union through the Democratic and Constitutional Union parties. Additionally, the Constitutional Convention on February 28, 1861 in Jefferson City voted 98 to 1 against secession. By the time this article was published, Missourians in general were in support of neutrality. But events that would unfold in the coming months would destroy these sentiments.

Glasgow Weekly Times (Glasgow, Missouri), April 18, 1861

“Popular Excitement: It is but natural that excitements, to a greater or less extent, should exist among our people on such an occasion as the present. Strange, indeed, if they did not exist. But we take this occasion to implore an intelligent people to allow no violent excitements to lead them into unnecessary improprieties. Let reason, not passion, rule all our counsels and all our action. Let nothing be done – let nothing be said, which, productive of no good, may be productive in so such harm. Missouri is a member of the Federal Union. She has no controversy at present with the Federal Government. Her true policy for the present, to one of masterly inactivity . . . 

Let every thinking man – let every man of influence and character – let every man of property – let every friend of law and order – let every lover of peace and domestic security – sternly, unchangeably, set his face against all unnecessary demonstrations of the kind we refer to; and frown down every unwise, uncalled for, and destructive popular demonstration which could endanger the internal peace of communities. 

Better, infinitely better, that we should be parties to war, conducted on the principles of civilized warfare, for then consecutive years, then that we should be the victims of intestinal conflicts for ten consecutive days. In the name of God and our common humanity, let no rational, responsible human being be instrumental in preventing such a disaster, or of countenancing, or of lending for one moment his personal influence in the production of such horrible consequences to the people among whom he dwells. A word to the wise is sufficient for them; and fools only will not heed timely advice.

These are worlds of wisdom, specially designed for St. Louis but equally applicable to our, and every locality. Read them old men and impress upon the young. 

The prudence and wisdom of our Convention in making no threats, presenting no offensive ultimatum, is now discernible. It advised against coercion, and prayed the belligerents to keep the public peace. Its advice has been unheeded, and its prayers not listened to. Thus Missouri is free to set according to all the surrounding circumstances. “Her true policy, for the present is one of masterly inactivity.” For the present, then, let all keep cool. Let reason, not passion rule.” [1] 


1. “Popular Excitement,” Glasgow Weekly Times, Glasgow, Missouri, April 18, 1861, in Newspapers, accessed April 12, 2018, https://www.newspapers.com/image/76437328/.

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