Names have been corrected. "Indianians" changed to "Indianans".
LoC call number: E415.7.J9 1969
1840 to 1872.
BY GEORGE W. JULIAN.
MNEMOSYNE PUBLISHING CO., INC. MIAMI, FLORIDA 1969
Originally Published in Chicago 1884
COPYRIGHT By JANSEN, McCLURG & CO., A. D. 1883.
First Mnemosyne reprinting 1969 Reprinted from a copy in the Fisk University Library Negro Collection Copyright (C)1969 Mnemosyne Publishing Co., Inc. Miami, Florida Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 78-83885
The following chapters are devoted mainly to facts and incidents connected with the development of anti-slavery politics from the year 1840 to the close of the work of Reconstruction which followed the late civil war. Other topics, however, are occasionally noticed, while I have deemed it proper to state my own attitude and course of action respecting various public questions, and to refer more particularly to the political strifes of my own State. In doing this, I have spoken freely of conspicuous personalities in connection with their public action, or their peculiar relations to myself; but my aim has been to deal fairly and state only the truth, while striving to weave into my story some reminiscences of the men and events of by-gone times, which may interest the reader. In the endeavor to elucidate the orderly progress of anti-slavery opinions and their translation into organized action, I have summarized and re-stated many of the familiar facts of current American politics during the period embraced; but I hope I have also made a slight contribution to the sources of history bearing upon a world-famous movement, touching which we should "gather up the fragments that nothing be lost."
G. W. J.
CHAPTER I. THE HARRISON CAMPAIGN—THE BEGINNING OF ANTI-SLAVERY POLITICS. The "Hard-cider" Frolic of 1840—The Issues—Swartwout and Political Corruption—The Demand for a Change—Character of Gen. Harrison— Personal Defamation—Mass-meetings and Songs—Crushing Defeat of the Democrats—First Appearance of the Slavery Issue in Politics— Pro-slavery Attitude of Harrison and Van Buren—Events favoring the Growth of Anti-slavery Opinion—Clay and Mendenhall—Texas' Annexation and John Tyler.
CHAPTER II. CAMPAIGN OF 1844—ANNEXATION AND SLAVERY. The Nomination of Clay—His Position on the Slavery Question and Annexation—Van Buren's Letter to Hammett, and its Effect upon the South—His Repudiation, and the Nomination of Polk—The Surprise of the Country—Unbounded Confidence of the Whigs—The Course of the New York Democrats—The "Kane Letter"—Trouble among the Whigs on the Annexation Question—Fierceness of the Contest, and singular Ability of the Leaders—The Effect of Clay's Defeat upon the Whigs —Causes of the Defeat—The Abolitionists, and the Abuse heaped upon them—Cassius M. Clay—Mr. Hoar's Mission to South Carolina— Election of John P. Hale—Annexation, and War with Mexico—Polk's Message, and the Wilmot Proviso—The Oregon Question, and Alex. H. Stephens.
CHAPTER III. CAMPAIGN OF 1848—ITS INCIDENTS AND RESULTS. Approach of another Presidential Campaign—Party Divisions threatened by the Wilmot Proviso—Nomination of Gen. Cass—The "Nicholson Letter"—Democratic Division in New York—Nomination of Gen. Taylor —Whig Divisions—Birth of the Free Soil Party—Buffalo Convention —Nomination of Van Buren and Adams—Difficulty of uniting on Van Buren—Incidents—Rev. Joshua Leavitt—Work of the Campaign—Webster and Free Soil—Greeley and Seward—Abuse of Whig Bolters—Remarkable Results of the Canvass.
CHAPTER IV. REMINISCENCES OF THE THIRTY-FIRST CONGRESS. Novel Political Complications—Compromise Measures—First Election to Congress—Sketch of the "Immortal Nine"—The Speakership and Wm. J. Brown—Gen. Taylor and the Wilmot Proviso—Slaveholding Bluster—Compromise Resolutions of Clay and Retreat of Northern Whigs—Visit to Gen. Taylor—To Mr. Clay—His Speeches—Webster's Seventh of March Speech—Calhoun—Speech on the Slavery Question.
CHAPTER V. THE THIRTY-FIRST CONGRESS (CONTINUED). Fracas between Col. Benton and Senator Foster—Character of Benton —Death of Gen. Taylor—The Funeral—Defeat of the "Omnibus Bill" —Its Triumph in Detail—Celebration of the Victory—"Lower Law" Sermons and "Union-Saving" Meetings—Slaveholding Literature— Mischievous Legislation—Visit to Philadelphia and Boston—Futile Efforts to suppress Agitation—Andrew Johnson and the Homestead Law—Effort to censure Mr. Webster—Political Morality in this Congress—Temperance—Jefferson Davis—John P. Hale—Thaddeus Stevens—Extracts from Speeches—Famous Men in both Houses—Free Soilers and their Vindication.
CHAPTER VI. THE EVOLUTION OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY. Pro-slavery Reaction—Indiana and Ohio—Race for Congress—Free Soil Gains in other States—National Convention at Cleveland— National Canvass of 1852—Nomination of Pierce and Scott, and the "finality" Platforms—Free Soil National Convention—Nomination of Hale—Samuel Lewis—The Whig Canvass—Webster—Canvass of the Democrats—Return of New York "Barnburners" to the Party—The Free Soil Campaign—Stumping Kentucky with Clay—Rev. John G. Fee— Incidents—Mob Law in Indiana—Result of the Canvass—Ruin of the Whigs—Disheartening Facts—The other Side of the Picture.
CHAPTER VII. THE REPUBLICAN PARTY (CONTINUED). A Notable Fugitive Slave Case—Inauguration of Pierce—Repeal of the Missouri Compromise—Its Effects upon the Parties—The Free Soil Position—Know-Nothingism—The Situation—First Steps in the Formation of the Republican Party—Movements of the Know-Nothings —Mistake of the Free Soilers—Anti-slavery Progress—Election of Banks as Speaker—Call for a Republican National Convention at Pittsburg—Organization of the Party—The Philadelphia Convention and its Platform—Nomination of Fremont—Know-Nothing and Whig Nominations—Democratic Nomination and Platform—The Grand Issue of the Campaign—The Democratic Canvass—The splendid Fight for Fremont—Triumph of Buchanan—Its Causes and Results—The Teaching of Events.
CHAPTER VIII. PROGRESS OF REPUBLICANISM. The Dred Scott Decision—Struggle for Freedom in Kansas—Instructive Debates in Congress—Republican Gains in the Thirty-fifth Congress —The English Bill—Its Defeat and the Effect—Defection of Douglas —Its Advantages and its Perils—Strange Course of the New York Tribune and other Papers—Republican Retreat in Indiana—Illinois Republicans stand firm, and hold the Party to its Position—Gains in the Thirty-sixth Congress—Southern Barbarism and Extravagance —John Brown's Raid—Cuba and the Slave-trade—Oregon and Kansas— Aids to Anti-slavery Progress—The Speakership and Helper's Book— Southern Insolence and Extravagance—Degradation of Douglas—Slave- code for the Territories—Outrages in the South—Campaign of 1860 —Charleston Convention and Division of the Democrats—Madness of the Factions—Bell and Everett—Republican Convention and its Platform—Lincoln and Seward—Canvass of Douglas—Campaign for Lincoln—Conduct of Seward—Republican Concessions and slave-holding Madness.
CHAPTER IX. THE NEW ADMINISTRATION AND THE WAR. Visit to Mr. Lincoln—Closing Months of Mr. Buchanan's Administration —Efforts to avoid War—Character of Buchanan—Lincoln's Inauguration —His War Policy—The Grand Army of Office-seekers—The July Session of Congress—The Atmosphere of Washington—Battle of Bull Run— Apologetic Resolve of Congress—First Confiscation Act—Gen. Fremont's Proclamation and its Effect—Its Revocation—Regular Session of Congress—Secretary Cameron—Committee on the Conduct of the War—Its Conference with the President and his Cabinet— Secretary Stanton and General McClellan—Order to march upon Manassas.
CHAPTER X. THE NEW ADMINISTRATION AND THE WAR (CONTINUED). The Wooden Guns—Conference with Secretary Stanton—His Relations to Lincoln—Strife between Radicalism and Conservatism—Passage of the Homestead Law—Visit to the President—The Confiscation Act and Rebel Land owners—Greeley's "Prayer of Twenty Millions," and Lincoln's Reply—Effort to disband the Republican Party—The Battle of Fredericksburg and General Burnside—The Proclamation of Emancipation—Visit to Mr. Lincoln—General Fremont—Report of the War Committee—Visit to Philadelphia and New York—Gerrit Smith— The Morgan Raid.
CHAPTER XI. INCIDENTS AND END OF THE WAR. Campaigning in Ohio—Attempted Repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law— Organized Movement in Favor of Chase for the Presidency—Confiscation of Rebel Lands—Fort Pillow, and the Treatment of Union Soldiers at Richmond—Mr. Lincoln's Letter to Hodges—Southern Homestead Bill, and Controversy with Mr. Mallory—Nomination of Andrew Johnson —Enforcement of Party Discipline—Mr. Lincoln's Change of Opinion as to Confiscation of Rebel Lands—Opposition to him in Congress— General Fremont and Montgomery Blair—Visit to City Point—Adoption of the XIII Constitutional Amendment—Trip to Richmond, and Incidents —Assassination of the President—Inauguration of Johnson and Announcement of his Policy—Feeling toward Mr. Lincoln—Capitulation of Gen. Johnston.
CHAPTER XII. RECONSTRUCTION AND SUFFRAGE—THE LAND QUESTION. Visit of Indianans to the President—Gov. Morton and Reconstruction —Report of Committee on the Conduct of the War—Discussion of Negro Suffrage and Incidents—Personal Matters—Suffrage in the District of Columbia—The Fourteenth Constitutional Amendment— Breach between the President and Congress—Blaine and Conkling— Land Bounties and the Homestead Law.
CHAPTER XIII. MINERAL LANDS AND THE RIGHT OF PRE-EMPTION. The Lead and Copper Lands of the Northwest—The gold-bearing Regions of the Pacific, and their Disposition—A legislative Reminiscence —Mining Act of 1866, and how it was passed—Its deplorable Failure, and its Lesson—Report of the Land Commission—The Right of Pre- emption, and the "Dred Scott Decision" of the Settlers.
CHAPTER XIV. RECONSTRUCTION AND IMPEACHMENT. Gov. Morton and his Scheme of Gerrymandering—The XIV Amendment— Hasty Reconstruction and the Territorial Plan—The Military Bill— Impeachment—An amusing Incident—Vote against Impeachment—The Vote reversed—The popular Feeling against the President—The Trial —Republican Intolerance—Injustice to Senators and to Chief Justice Chase—Nomination of Gen. Grant—Re-nomination for Congress—Personal —Squabble of Place-hunters—XVI Amendment.
CHAPTER XV. GRANT AND GREELEY. The new Cabinet—Seeds of Party Disaffection—Trip to California— Party Degeneracy—The liberal Republican Movement—Re-nomination of Grant—The Cincinnati Convention—Perplexities of the Situation —The Canvass for Greeley—Its Bitterness—Its peculiar Features— The Defeat—The Vindication of Liberals—Visit to Chase and Sumner —Death of Greeley.
CHAPTER XVI. CONCLUDING NOTES. Party Changes caused by the Slavery Issue—Notable Men in Congress during the War—Sketches of prominent Men in the Senate and House —Scenes and Incidents—Butler and Bingham—Cox and Butler—Judge Kelley and Van Wyck—Lovejoy and Wickliffe—Washburn and Donnelly —Oakes Ames—Abolitionism in Washington early in the War—Life at the Capital—The new Dispensation and its Problems.
CHAPTER I. THE HARRISON CAMPAIGN—THE BEGINNING OF ANTI-SLAVERY POLITICS. The "hard-cider" frolic of 1840—The issues—Swartwout and political corruption—The demand for a change—Character of Gen. Harrison— Personal defamation—Mass-meetings and songs—Crushing defeat of the Democrats—First appearance of the slavery issue in politics— Pro-slavery attitude of Harrison and Van Buren—Events favoring the growth of anti-slavery opinion—Clay and Mendenhall—Texas annexation and John Tyler.
Through the influence of early associations, I began my political life as a Whig, casting my first presidential ballot for General Harrison, in 1840. I knew next to nothing of our party politics; but in the matter of attending mass-meetings, singing Whig songs and drinking hard cider, I played a considerable part in the memorable campaign of that year. So far as ideas entered into my support of the Whig candidate, I simply regarded him as a poor man, whose home was a log cabin, and who would in some way help the people through their scuffle with poverty and the "hard times"; while I was fully persuaded that Van Buren was not only a graceless aristocrat and a dandy, but a cunning conspirator, seeking the overthrow of his country's liberties by uniting the sword and the purse in his own clutches, as he was often painted on the party banners. In these impressions I was by no means singular. They filled the air, and seemed to be wafted on every breeze. Horace Greeley's famous campaign organ, "The Log Cabin," only gave them voice and fitting pictorial effect, and he frankly admitted in later years that his Whig appeals, with his music and wood engravings of General Harrison's battle scenes, were more "vivid" than "sedately argumentative." No one will now seriously pretend that this was a campaign of ideas, or a struggle for political reform in any sense. It was a grand national frolic, in which the imprisoned mirth and fun of the people found such jubilant and uproarious expression that anything like calmness of judgment or real seriousness of purpose was out of the question in the Whig camp.
As regards party issues, General Harrison, singularly enough, was not a Whig, but an old fashioned States-Rights Democrat of the Jeffersonian school. His letters to Harmar Denny and Sherrod Williams committed him to none of the dogmas which defined a Whig. No authentic utterance of his could be produced in which he had ever expressed his agreement with the Whig party on the questions of a protective tariff, internal improvements, or a national bank. There was very high Whig authority for saying that the bank question was not an issue of the canvass, while Van Buren's great measure for separating the currency from the banks became a law pending the Presidential struggle. In fact, it was because no proof of General Harrison's party orthodoxy could be found, that he was nominated; and the Whig managers of the Harrisburg Convention felt obliged to sacrifice Henry Clay, which they did through the basest double-dealing and treachery, for the reason that his right angled character as a party leader would make him unavailable as a candidate. As to John Tyler, he was not a Whig in any sense. It is true that he had opposed the removal of the deposits, and voted against Benton's expunging resolutions, but on all the regular and recognized party issues he was fully committed as a Democrat, and was, moreover, a nullifier. The sole proof of his Whiggery was the apocryphal statement that he wept when Clay failed to receive the nomination, while his political position was perfectly understood by the men who nominated him. There was one policy only on which they were perfectly agreed, and that was the policy of avowing no principles whatever; and they tendered but one issue, and that was a change of the national administration. On this issue they were perfectly united and thoroughly in earnest, and it was idle to deny that on their own showing the spoils alone divided them from the Democrats and inspired their zeal.
The demand of the Whigs for a change was well-founded. Samuel Swartwout, the New York Collector of Customs, had disgraced the Government by his defalcations; and, although he was a legacy of Mr. Van Buren's "illustrious predecessor," and had been "vindicated" by a Senate committee composed chiefly of his political opponents, he was unquestionably a public swindler, and had found shelter under Mr. Van Buren's administration. He was the most conspicuous public rascal of his time, but was far from being alone in his odious notoriety. The system of public plunder inaugurated by Jackson was in full blast, and an organized effort to reform it was the real need of the hour; but here was the weak point of the Whigs. They proceeded upon the perfectly gratuitous assumption that the shameless abuses against which they clamored would be thoroughly reformed should they come into power. They took it for granted that a change would be equivalent to a cure, and that the people would follow them in thus begging the very question on which some satisfactory assurance was reasonably required. They seemed totally unconscious of the fact that human nature is essentially the same in all parties, and that a mere change of men without any change of system would be fruitless. They laid down no programme looking to the reform of the civil service. They did not condemn it, and their sole panacea for the startling frauds and defalcations of Van Buren's administration was the imagined superior virtue and patriotism of the Whigs. In the light of this fact alone, it is impossible to account for the perfectly unbounded and irrepressible enthusiasm which swept over the land during the campaign, and so signally routed the forces of Democracy. Something more than empty promises and windy declamation was necessary, and that something, in an evil hour, was supplied by the Democrats themselves.
General Harrison was a man of Revolutionary blood. He commanded the confidence of the chief Fathers of the Republic. He was a man of undoubted bravery, and had made a most honorable record, both as a soldier and a civilian, upon ample trial in both capacities. He was unquestionably honest and patriotic, and the fact that he was a poor man, and a plain farmer of the West, could properly form no objection to his character or his fitness for the Presidency. But the Democratic orators and newspapers assailed him as an "imbecile." They called him a "dotard" and a "granny." They said he had distinguished himself in war by running away from the enemy. One Democratic journalist spoke of him, contemptuously, as a man who should be content with a log cabin and a barrel of hard cider, without aspiring to the Presidency. The efforts to belittle his merits and defile his good name became systematic, and degenerated into the most unpardonable personal abuse and political defamation. This was exactly what the Whigs needed to supplement their lack of principles. It worked like a charm. It rallied the Whig masses like a grand battle-cry. Mass-meetings of the people, such as had never been dreamed of before, became the order of the day. The people took the work of politics into their own keeping, and the leaders became followers. The first monster meeting I attended was held on the Tippecanoe battle-ground, on the 29th and 30th of May. In order to attend it I rode on horseback through the mud and swamps one hundred and fifty miles; but I considered myself amply compensated for the journey in what I saw and enjoyed. The gathering was simply immense; and I remember that James Brooks, since conspicuous in our national politics, tried to address the multitude from the top of a huge log cabin. Large shipments of hard cider had been sent up the Wabash by steamer, and it was liberally dealt out to the people in gourds, as more appropriate and old-fashioned than glasses. The people seemed to be supremely happy, and their faces were so uniformly radiant with smiles that a man who was detected with a serious countenance was at once suspected as an unrepentant "Loco-foco." But by far the largest meeting of the campaign was that held at Dayton, on the 12th day of September, where General Harrison spoke at length. He was the first "great man" I had seen; and, while gazing into his face with an awe which I have never since felt for any mortal, I was suddenly recalled from my rapt condition by the exit of my pocket-book. The number in attendance at this meeting was estimated at two hundred thousand, and I think it could not have been far out of the way. I am sure I have never seen it equaled, although I have witnessed many great meetings within the past forty years. The marked peculiarity of all the gatherings of this campaign was a certain grotesque pomp and extravagance of representation suggestive of a grand carnival. The banners, devices and pictures were innumerable, while huge wagons were mounted with log cabins, cider barrels, canoes, miniature ships, and raccoons.
But the most distinguishing feature of the campaign was its music. The spirit of song was everywhere, and made the whole land vocal. The campaign was set to music, and the song seriously threatened to drown the stump speech. Whiggery was translated into a tune, and poured itself forth in doggerel rhymes which seemed to be born of the hour, and exactly suited to the crisis. I give a few specimens, partly from memory, and partly from "The Harrison and Log Cabin Song Book" of 1840, a copy of which is before me:
What has caused the great commotion, motion, motion, Our country through? It is the ball a-rolling on, on, For Tippecanoe and Tyler too—Tippecanoe and Tyler too; And with them we'll beat little Van, Van, Van; Van is a used up man; And with them we'll beat little Van.
Like the rushing of mighty waters, waters, waters, On it will go, And in its course will clear the way For Tippecanoe and Tyler too—Tippecanoe and Tyler too; And with them we'll beat little Van, Van, Van; Van is a used up man; And with them we'll beat little Van.
The famous "ball" alluded to in this song originated with the Whigs of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and was sent by them to a Mass Convention held at Baltimore. It was ten or twelve feet in diameter, and upon the ends of it, on blue ground, were stars corresponding in number with the States of the Union. On its wide spaces of red and white stripes various inscriptions were made, including the following, which belongs to the poetry and music of the campaign:
With heart and soul This ball we roll; May times improve As on we move.
This Democratic ball Set rolling first by Benton, Is on another track From that it first was sent on.
Farewell, dear Van, You're not our man; To guide the ship, We'll try old Tip.
The following, sung to the tune of "Old Rosin the Bow," was quite as popular:
Come ye who, whatever betide her, To Freedom have sworn to be true, Prime up with a cup of hard cider, And drink to old Tippecanoe.
On top I've a cask of as good, sir, As man from the tap ever drew; No poison to cut up your blood, sir, But liquor as pure as the dew.
Parched corn men can't stand it much longer, Enough is as much as we'll bear; With Tip at our head, in October, We'll tumble Van out of the chair.
Then ho! for March fourth, forty-one, boys, We'll shout till the heavens' arched blue Shall echo hard cider and fun, boys, Drink, drink, to old Tippecanoe.
The following kindred verses will be familiar to everybody who remembers the year 1840:
Ye jolly young lads of Ohio, And all ye sick Vanocrats, too, Come out from among the foul party, And vote for old Tippecanoe.
Good men from the Van jacks are flying, Which makes them look kinder askew, For they see they are joining the standard With the hero of Tippecanoe.
They say that he lived in a cabin, And lived on old cider, too; Well, what if he did? I'm certain He's the hero of Tippecanoe.
I give the following verses of one of the best, which used to be sung with tremendous effect:
The times are bad, and want curing; They are getting past all enduring; Let us turn out Martin Van Buren, And put in old Tippecanoe. The best thing we can do, Is to put in old Tippecanoe.
It's a business we all can take part in, So let us give notice to Martin That he must get ready for sartin', For we'll put in old Tippecanoe. The best thing we can do Is to put in old Tippecanoe.
We've had of their humbugs a plenty; For now all our pockets are empty; We've a dollar now where we had twenty, So we'll put in old Tippecanoe. The best thing we can do, Is to put in old Tippecanoe.
The following verses are perfectly characteristic:
See the farmer to his meal Joyfully repair; Crackers, cheese and cider, too, A hard but homely fare.
Martin to his breakfast comes At the hour of noon; Sipping from a china cup, With a golden spoon.
Martin's steeds impatient wait At the palace door; Outriders behind the coach And lackeys on before.
After the State election in Maine, a new song appeared, which at once became a favorite, and from which I quote the following:
And have you heard the news from Maine, And what old Maine can do? She went hell bent for Governor Kent, And Tippecanoe and Tyler too, And Tippecanoe and Tyler too.
Such was this most remarkable Whig campaign, with its monster meetings and music, its infinite drolleries, its rollicking fun, and its strong flavor of political lunacy. As to the canvass of the Democrats, the story is soon told. In all points it was the reverse of a success. The attempt to manufacture enthusiasm failed signally. They had neither fun nor music in their service, and the attempt to secure them would have been completely overwhelmed by the flood on the other side. It was a melancholy struggle, and constantly made more so by the provoking enthusiasm and unbounded good humor of the Whigs. It ended as a campaign of despair, while its humiliating catastrophe must have awakened inexpressible disappointment and disgust both among the leaders and masses of the party.
This picture of party politics, forty-three years ago, is not very flattering to our American pride, but it simply shows the working of Democratic institutions in dealing with the "raw material" of society and life at that time. The movement of 1840 was necessarily transient and provisional, while underneath its clatter and nonsense was a real issue. It was unrecognized by both parties, but it made its advent, and the men who pointed its way quietly served notice upon the country of their ulterior purposes.
As long ago as the year 1817, Charles Osborn had established an anti-slavery newspaper in Ohio, entitled "The Philanthropist," which was followed in 1821 by the publication of Benjamin Lundy's "Genius of Universal Emancipation." In 1831 the uprising of slaves in Southampton County, Virginia, under the lead of Nat. Turner, had startled the country and invited attention to the question of slavery. In the same year Garrison had established "The Liberator," and in 1835 was mobbed in Boston, and dragged through its streets with a rope about his neck. In 1837 Lovejoy had been murdered in Alton, Illinois, and his assassins compared by the Mayor of Boston to the patriots of the Revolution. In 1838 a pro-slavery mob had set fire to Pennsylvania Hall, in Philadelphia, and defied the city authorities in this service of slavery. President Jackson and Amos Kendall, his Postmaster General, had openly set the Constitution at defiance by justifying the rifling of the mails and the suppression of the circulation of anti-slavery newspapers in the South. The "gag" resolutions had been introduced in the House of Representatives in 1836, which provoked the splendid fights of Adams, Giddings and Slade for the right of petition and the freedom of speech. Dr. Channing had published his prophetic letter to Henry Clay, on the annexation of Texas, in 1837, and awakened a profound interest in the slavery question on both sides of the Atlantic. We had been disgraced by two Florida wars, caused by the unconstitutional espousal of slavery by the General Government. President Van Buren had dishonored his administration and defied the moral sense of the civilized world by his efforts to prostitute our foreign policy to the service of slavery and the slave trade. In February, 1839, Henry Clay had made his famous speech on "Abolitionism," and thus recognized the bearing of the slavery question upon the presidential election of the following year. The Abolitionists had laid siege to the conscience and humanity of the people, and their moral appeals were to be a well-spring of life to the nation in its final struggle for self-preservation; but as yet they had agreed upon no organized plan of action against the aggressions of an institution which threatened the overthrow of the Union and the end of Republican government. But now they were divided into two camps, the larger of which favored political action, organized as a party, and nominated, as its candidate for President, James G. Birney, who received nearly seven thousand votes.
This was a small beginning, but it was the beginning of the end. That slavery was to be put down without political action in a government carried on by the ballot was never a tenable proposition, and the inevitable work was at last inaugurated. It was done opportunely. Harrison and Van Buren were alike objectionable to anti-slavery men who understood their record. To choose between them was to betray the cause. Van Buren had attempted to shelter the slave trade under the national flag. He had allied himself to the enemies of the right of petition and the freedom of debate, as the means of conciliating the South. He had taken sides with Jackson in his lawless interference with the mails at the bidding of slave-holders. In a word, he had fairly earned the description of "a Northern man with Southern principles." General Harrison, on the other hand, was a pro-slavery Virginian. While Governor of Indiana Territory he had repeatedly sought the introduction of slavery into that region through the suspension of the ordnance of 1787, which had forever dedicated it to freedom. He had taken sides with the South in 1820 on the Missouri question. He had no sympathy with the struggle of Adams and his associates, against the gag and in favor of the right of petition, and regarded the discussion of the slavery question as unconstitutional. The first draft of his inaugural was so wantonly offensive to the anti-slavery Whigs who had aided in his election, that even Mr. Clay condemned it, and prevailed on the General to modify it. He had declared that "the schemes of the Abolitionists were fraught with horrors, upon which an incarnate devil only could look with approbation." With such candidates the hour had fairly struck for anti-slavery men, who believed in the use of the ballot, to launch the grand movement which was finally to triumph over all opposition; while to oppose this movement, however honestly, was to encourage men to choose between parties equally untrustworthy, and by thus prolonging their rule to defeat all practical anti-slavery work. It was the singular mistake of the non-voting Abolitionists at this time, that, while they looked forward to political action as the ultimate result of their moral agitation, they vehemently opposed the formation of an anti-slavery political party, and either withheld their votes or divided them between these pro-slavery chieftains, though giving by far the larger proportion to the Whig candidate.
From this time forward anti-slavery progress was more marked. The struggle over the right of petition in Congress continued, and was characterized by a constantly increasing measure of fierceness on the part of the South. This is vividly depicted in a passage from the diary of Mr. Adams, in March, 1841, in which he declares that "The world, the flesh, and all the devils in hell are arrayed against any man who now, in this North American Union, shall dare to join the standard of Almighty God to put down the African slave trade; and what can I, upon the verge of my seventy-fourth birthday, with a shaking hand, a darkening eye, a drowsy brain, and with all my faculties dropping from me one by one as the teeth are dropping from my head, what can I do for the cause of God and man, for the progress of human emancipation, for the suppression of the African slave-trade? Yet my conscience presses me on; let me but die upon the breach."
The celebrated trial of Mr. Adams the following year, for presenting a petition from the citizens of Haverhill, requesting Congress to take steps toward a peaceable dissolution of the Union, was a great national event, and his triumph gave a new impulse to the cause of freedom. The censure of Mr. Giddings which followed, for offering resolutions in the House embodying the simplest truisms respecting the relations of the General Government to slavery, and the elaborate State paper of Mr. Webster, which provoked these resolutions, in which he attempted to commit the Government to the protection of slavery on the high seas, in accordance with the theories of Mr. Calhoun, still further kept alive the anti-slavery agitation, and awakened the interest of Northern men. A kindred aid, unwittingly rendered the anti-slavery cause, was the infamous diplomacy of General Cass, our Ambassador to France in 1842, in connection with the Quintuple Treaty for the suppression of the African slave trade. His monstrous effort to shield that trade under the flag of the United States was characterized by Mr. Adams as "a compound of Yankee cunning, of Italian perfidy, and of French legerete, cemented by shameless profligacy unparalleled in American diplomacy." In October, 1842, Henry Clay himself became an anti-slavery agitator through his famous "Mendenhall Speech" at Richmond, Indiana. In response to a petition asking him to emancipate his slaves, he told the people "that whatever the law secures as property is property," and described his slaves as "being well fed and clad," and as looking "sleek and hearty." "Go home, Mr. Mendenhall," said he, "and mind your own business, and leave other people to take care of theirs." Mr. Mendenhall was an anti-slavery Quaker; but Mr. Clay, while rebuking him severely, took pains to compliment the society itself on its practically pro-slavery attitude, and thus stung into redoubled earnestness and zeal the men who had recently been driven out of it on account of their "abolitionism." On the day following this speech, which was the Sabbath, he was escorted to the yearly meeting by Elijah Coffin, its clerk, seated in a very conspicuous place, honored by every mark of the most obsequious deference, and thus made the instrument of widening the breach already formed in the society, while feeding the anti-slavery fires which he was so anxious to assuage.
The work of agitation was still further kept alive by conflicts between the Northern and Southern States respecting the reclamation of fugitives from crime. Virginia had demanded of New York the surrender of three colored sailors who were charged with having aided a slave to escape. Governor Seward refused to deliver them up, for the reason that the Constitutional provision on the subject must be so understood as that States would only be required to surrender fugitives accused of an offense considered a crime in the State called upon to make the surrender as well as in the State asking for it. Similar controversies occurred between other States, in all of which the South failed in her purpose. The anti-slavery spirit found further expression in 1843 in Massachusetts, whose Legislature resolved to move, through the Representatives of the State in Congress, an Amendment to the Constitution, basing representation on the free population only of the States; which proposition gave rise to a most memorable debate in the national House of Representatives. It was in the August of the same year that the voting Abolitionists held a National Convention in Buffalo, in which all the free States, except New Hampshire, were represented; while in the following year the Methodist Episcopal Church was rent in twain by the same unmanageable question, which had previously divided other ecclesiastical communions.
In the meanwhile, the question of Texan annexation had been steadily advancing to the political front, and stirring the blood of the people both North and South. This "robbery of a realm," as Dr. Channing had styled it, was the unalterable purpose and unquenchable desire of the slave-holding interest, and its accomplishment was to be secured by openly espousing the principle that the end justifies the means, and setting all consequences at defiance. This is exactly what the Government did. The diplomacy through which the plot was prosecuted was marked by a cunning, audacity, and perfidy, which, in these particulars, leave the administration of John Tyler unrivalled in its ugly pre-eminence, and form one of the blackest pages in the history of the Republic. The momentous question was now upon us; and on the dawning of the year 1844, all parties saw that it was destined to be the overshadowing issue in the ensuing presidential campaign.
CHAPTER II. THE CAMPAIGN OF 1844—ANNEXATION AND SLAVERY. The nomination of Clay—His position on the slavery question and annexation—Van Buren's letter to Hammet, and its effect upon the South—His repudiation, and the nomination of Polk—The surprise of the country—Unbounded confidence of the Whigs—The course of the New York Democrats—The "Kane Letter"—Trouble among the Whigs on the annexation question—Fierceness of the contest, and singular ability of the leaders—The effect of Clay's defeat upon the Whigs —Causes of the defeat—The Abolitionists, and the abuse heaped upon them—Cassius M. Clay—Mr. Hoar's mission to South Carolina— Election of John P. Hale—Annexation and war with Mexico—Polk's message, and the Wilmot proviso—The Oregon question, and Alex. H. Stephens.
The times were serious. The fun and frolic of 1840 had borne no fruit, and that part of our history could not be repeated. The campaign of 1844 promised to be a struggle for principle; and among the Whigs all eyes were turned for a standard-bearer to Mr. Clay, who had been so shabbily treated four years before. He was unanimously nominated on the first of May, with Theodore Frelinghuysen as the candidate for Vice President. The party issues were not very sharply defined, but this was scarcely necessary with a candidate who was proverbially regarded as himself "the embodiment of Whig principles." On the subject of annexation, he clearly defined his position in his letter of the 17th of April to the "National Intelligencer." He declared that annexation and war with Mexico were identical, and placed himself squarely against it, except upon conditions specified, which would make the project of immediate annexation impossible. On the slavery question, he had not yet seriously offended the anti-slavery element in his own party, and was even trusted by some of the voting anti-slavery men. In a speech at Raleigh, in April of this year, he declared it to be "the duty of each State to sustain its own domestic institutions." He had publicly said that the General Government had nothing to do with slavery, save in the matters of taxation, representation, and the return of fugitive slaves. He had condemned the censure of Mr. Giddings in 1842 as an outrage, and indorsed the principles laid down in his tract, signed "Pacificus," on the relations of the Federal Government to slavery, and the rights and duties of the people of the free States. In his earlier years, he had been an outspoken emancipationist, and had always frankly expressed his opinion that slavery was a great evil. These considerations, and especially his unequivocal utterances against the annexation scheme, were regarded as hopeful auguries of a thoroughly united party, and its triumph at the polls; while Mr. Webster, always on the presidential anxious-seat, and carefully watching the signs of the political zodiac, now cordially lent his efforts to the Whig cause.
With the Democracy, Mr. Van Buren was still a general favorite. His friends felt that the wrong done him in 1840 should now be righted, and a large majority of his party undoubtedly favored his renomination. But his famous letter to Mr. Hammet, of Mississippi, dated March 27th, on the annexation of Texas, placed a lion in his path. In this lengthy and elaborate document he committed himself against the project of immediate annexation, and the effect was at once seen in the decidedly unfriendly tone of Democratic opinion in the South. He had been faithful to the Slave oligarchy in many things, but his failure in one was counted a breach of the whole law. By many acts of patient and dutiful service he had earned the gratitude of his Southern task-masters; but now, when driven to the wall, he mustered the courage to say, "Thus far, no farther"; and for this there was no forgiveness. General Jackson came to his rescue, but it was in vain. The Southern heart was set upon immediate annexation as the golden opportunity for rebuilding the endangered edifice of slavery, and Mr. Van Buren's talk about national obligations and the danger of a foreign war was treated as the idle wind. The Southern Democrats were bent upon his overthrow, and they went about it in the Baltimore Convention of the 27th of May as if perfectly conscious of their power over the Northern wing of the party. They moved and carried the "two-thirds rule," which had been acted on in the National Convention of 1832, and afterward in that of 1835, although this could not have been done without the votes of a majority of the convention, which was itself strongly for Van Buren. The rule was adopted by a considerable majority, the South being nearly unanimous in its favor, while the North largely "supplied the men who handed Van Buren over to his enemies with a kiss." Even General Cass, the most gifted and accomplished dough-face in the Northern States, failed to receive a majority of the votes of the Convention on any ballot, and James K. Polk was finally nominated as the champion of immediate annexation, with George M. Dallas as the candidate for Vice President.
The nomination was a perfect surprise to the country, because Mr. Polk was wholly unknown to the people as a statesman. Like Governor Hayes, when nominated in 1876, he belonged to the "illustrious obscure." The astonished native who, on hearing the news, suddenly inquired of a bystander, "Who the devil is Polk?" simply echoed the common feeling, while his question provoked the general laughter of the Whigs. For a time the nomination was somewhat disappointing to the Democrats themselves; but they soon rallied, and finally went into the canvass very earnestly, and with a united front. The Whigs began the campaign in high hopes and in fact with unbounded confidence in their success. Their great captain was in command, and they took comfort in his favorite utterance that "truth is omnipotent, and public justice certain." To pit him against such a pigmy as Polk seemed to them a miserable burlesque, and they counted their triumph as already perfectly assured. They claimed the advantage on the question of annexation, and still more as to the tariff, since the act of 1842 was popular, and Polk was known to be a free-trader of the Calhoun school. As the canvass proceeded, however, it became evident that the fight was to be fierce and bitter to the last degree, and that the issue, after all, was not so certain. Mr. Polk, notwithstanding his obscurity, was able to rouse the enthusiasm of his party, North and South, to a very remarkable degree. The annexation pill was swallowed by many Democrats whose support of him had been deemed morally impossible. In New York, where the opposition was strongest, leading Democrats, with William Cullen Bryant as their head, denounced the annexation scheme and repudiated the paragraph of the National platform which favored it, and yet voted for Polk, who owed his nomination solely to the fact that he had committed himself to the policy of immediate and unconditional annexation, thus anticipating the sickly political morality of 1852, when so many men of repute tried in vain to save both their consciences and their party orthodoxy by "spitting upon the platform and swallowing the candidate who stood upon it." History will have to record that the action of these New York Democrats saved the ticket in that State, and justly attaches to them the responsibility for the very evils to the country against which they so eloquently warned their brethren. The power of the spoils came in as a tremendous make-weight, while the party lash was vigorously flourished, and the "independent voter" was as hateful to the party managers on both sides as we find him to-day. Those who refused to wear the party collar were branded by the "organs" as a "pestiferous and demoralizing brood," who deserved "extermination." Discipline was rigorously enforced, and made to take the place of argument. As regards the tariff question, Mr. Polk's letter to Judge Kane, of Philadelphia, of the 19th of June, enabled his friends completely to turn the tables on the Whigs of Pennsylvania, where "Polk, Dallas, and the tariff of 1842," was blazoned on the Democratic banners, and thousands of Democrats were actually made to believe that Polk was even a better tariff man than Clay. This letter, committing its free-trade author to the principle of a revenue tariff, with "reasonable incidental protection to our home industries," was translated into German and printed in all the party papers; and as a triumphant effort to make the people believe a lie, and a masterpiece of political duplicity employed by the great party as a means of success, it had no precedent in American politics. In later times, however, it has been completely eclipsed by the scheme of "tissue ballots," and other wholesale methods of balking the popular will in the South, by the successful effort to cheat the nation out of the right to choose its Chief Magistrate in 1876, and by the startling bribery of a great commonwealth four years later, now unblushingly confessed by the party leaders who accomplished it.
In the meantime the spirit of discontent began to manifest itself among the Whigs of the South respecting Mr. Clay's attitude on the question of annexation, and in a moment of weakness he wrote his unfortunate "Alabama letter," of the 27th of July. In that letter he said: "I do not think the subject of slavery ought to affect the question one way or the other. Whether Texas be independent or incorporated into the United States, I do not believe it will prolong or shorten the duration of that institution." He also declared that he would be "glad to see it, without dishonor, without war, with the common consent of the Union, and upon just and fair terms." These words were perfectly chilling to his anti-slavery supporters, who were utterly opposed to annexation on any terms, because the power of slavery would thus inevitably be extended and strengthened in the United States. The letter was an irreparable mistake. It was a fresh example of his besetting tendency to mediate between opposing policies, and undoubtedly drove from his support many who would otherwise have followed the Whig banner to the end.
But the Whigs kept up the fight. The issues were joined, and it was too late to change front. The real question in dispute was that of annexation, and the election of Polk was certain to secure it, and to involve the nation in war. Clay was unquestionably right in saying that annexation and war were identical; and, although on the slavery question he might be feared as a compromiser, there was no reason to doubt that, if elected, he would vigorously resist the annexation scheme, except upon conditions already stated, which could not fail to defeat it as a present measure and avoid the calamities of war. I was inexpressibly disappointed and grieved by his letter; but I agreed with Cassius M. Clay, that opposition to annexation except "with the common consent of the Union" was practically absolute opposition, and I therefore kept up the fight in which I had enlisted in the beginning and made my first venture as a stump speaker. I cared little about the old party issues. I had outgrown the teachings of the Whigs on the subject of protection, and especially their pet dogma of "the higher the duty the lower the price of the protected article." As to a national bank, I followed Webster, who had pronounced it "an obsolete idea"; and I totally repudiated the land policy of the Whigs, having at that early day espoused the principle that the public lands should cease to be a source of revenue, and be granted in small homesteads to the landless poor for actual settlement and tillage. But on the subject of slavery, though it had escaped my attention in the hurrah of 1840, I was thoroughly aroused. This came of my Quaker training, the speeches of Adams and Giddings, the anti-slavery newspapers, and the writings of Dr. Channing, all of which I had been reading with profound interest since the Harrison Campaign. Being perfectly sure that annexation would lead to slavery-extension and war, I thought it my clear and unhesitating duty to resist the election of Polk with all my might. This I did to the end, and in doing it I employed substantially the same arguments on which I justified my separation from the Whigs four years later.
The contest proceeded with its variety of charges and counter- charges, and was prosecuted on both sides with extraordinary vigor and zeal in every part of the Union. I think it was everywhere and pre-eminently a struggle between the men of brains on either side. I am quite sure this was true in my own State. Indiana was remarkable at that time, not only for her gifted stump orators, but for her men of real calibre and power of argument. On the side of the Whigs were such men as Oliver H. Smith, Joseph G. Marshall, George G. Dunn, Joseph L. White, Richard W. Thompson, Caleb B. Smith, George H. Proffit, Henry S. Lane, Samuel W. Parker, and James H. Cravens. The Democrats could boast of Tilghman A. Howard, James Whitcomb, Edward A. Hannegan, William W. Wick, John Law, Joseph A. Wright, Jesse D. Bright, John W. Davis, Thomas J. Henly, and John L. Robinson. The best talking talent of the nation was called into service, including such Democratic giants as Thomas H. Benton, William Allen, Silas Wright, Robert J. Walker, James Buchanan, and Daniel S. Dickinson; and such Whigs to match them as Daniel Webster, Rufus Choate, Thomas F. Marshall, Thomas Corwin, S. S. Prentiss, Thomas Ewing, and W. C. Preston. The fight was more ably if not more hotly contested than any preceding national struggle, raging and blazing everywhere, while the forces marshaled against each other were more evenly balanced than in any contest since the year 1800. The race was so close that the result hung in agonizing doubt and suspense up to the evening following the election. Party feeling rose to a frenzy, and the consuming desire of the Whigs to crown their great Chief with the laurels of victory was only equaled by that of the Democrats for the triumph of the unknown Tennessean whose nomination had provoked the aggravating laughter of the enemy in the beginning.
It is not possible to describe the effect of Mr. Clay's defeat upon the Whigs. It was wholly unexpected, and Mr. Clay especially remained sanguine as to his triumph up to the last moment. When the result became known, it was accepted by his friends as a great national calamity and humiliation. It shocked and paralyzed them like a great tragedy. I remember very vividly one zealous Whig, afterward a prominent Free Soiler and Republican leader, who was so utterly overwhelmed that for a week he lost the power of sleep, and gave himself up to political sorrow and despair. Letters of the most heart-felt condolence poured in upon Mr. Clay from all quarters, and the Whigs everywhere seemed to feel that no statesman of real eminence could ever be made President. They insisted that an overwhelming preponderance of the virtue, intelligence and respectability of the country had supported their candidate, while the larger element of ignorance and "unwashed" humanity, including our foreign-born population, gave the victory to Mr. Polk. Their faith in republican government was fearfully shaken, while the causes of the great disaster were of course sought out, and made the text of hasty but copious moralizings. One of these causes was the Kane letter, which undoubtedly gave Mr. Polk the State of Pennsylvania. Another was the baneful influence of "nativism," which had just broken out in the great cities, and been made the occasion of such frightful riot and bloodshed in Philadelphia as to alarm our foreign-born citizens, and throw them almost unanimously against the Whigs. The Abolitionists declared that Mr. Clay's defeat was caused by his trimming on the annexation question, which drew from him a sufficient number of conscientious anti-slavery men to have turned the tide in his favor. The famous Plaquemine frauds in Louisiana unquestionably lost that State to Mr. Clay. This infamous conspiracy to strangle the voice of a sovereign State was engineered by John Slidell, and it consisted of the shipment from New Orleans to Plaquemine of two steamboats loaded with roughs and villains, whose illegal votes were sufficient to turn the State over to the Democrats.
But the cause of Mr. Clay's defeat which was dwelt upon with most emphasis and feeling was the action of the Liberty party. Birney, its candidate for President, received 66,304 votes, and these, it was alleged, came chiefly from the Whig party. The vote of these men in New York and Michigan was greater than the Democratic majority, so that if they had united with the Whigs, Clay would have been elected in spite of all other opposition. Mr. Polk's plurality over Clay in New York was only 5,106, while Birney received in that State 15,812; and Horace Greeley insisted that if only one third of this vote had been cast for Mr. Clay, he would have been President. The feeling of the Whigs against these anti-slavery men was bitter and damnatory to the last degree. The Plaquemine frauds, the Kane letter, and everything else, were forgotten in the general and abounding wrath against these "fanatics," who were denounced as the betrayers of their country and of the cause which a very great and critical opportunity had placed it in their power to save. "The Abolitionists deserve to be damned, and they will be," said a zealous Whig to an anti-slavery Quaker; and this was simply the expression of the prevailing feeling at this time, at least in the West.
But this treatment of the Abolitionists was manifestly unjust. Their organization four years before was neither untimely nor unnecessary, but belonged to the inevitable logic of a great and dominating idea. A party was absolutely necessary which should make this idea paramount, and utterly refuse to be drawn away from it by any party divisions upon subsidiary questions. It should be remembered, too, that the Liberty party was made up of Democratic as well as Whig deserters, and that if it had disbanded, or had not been formed, the result of this election would have been the same. The statement of Mr. Greeley, that one third of Birney's vote in New York would have elected Clay, was unwarranted, unless he was able to show what would have been the action of the other two thirds. In justice to these Abolitionists it should also be remembered and recorded, to say the very least, that Mr. Clay himself divided with them the responsibility of his defeat by his Alabama letter, and that now, in the clear perspective of history, they stand vindicated against their Whig assailants, whose fevered brains and party intolerance blinded their eyes to the truth. Doubtless there were honest differences of opinion as to the best method of serving the anti-slavery cause in this exasperating campaign, and these differences may still survive as an inheritance; but abolitionism, as a working force in our politics, had to have a beginning, and no man who cherishes the memory of the old Free Soil party, and of the larger one to which it gave birth, will withhold the meed of his praise from the heroic little band of sappers and miners who blazed the way for the armies which were to follow, and whose voices, though but faintly heard in the whirlwind of 1840, were made significantly audible in 1844. Although they were everywhere totally misunderstood and grossly misrepresented, they clearly comprehended their work and courageously entered upon its performance. Their political creed was substantially identical with that of the Free Soilers of 1848 and the Republicans of 1856 and 1860. They were anything but political fanatics, and history will record that their sole offense was the espousal of the truth in advance of the multitude, which slowly and finally followed in their footsteps.
But the war against slavery was not at all intermitted by the victory of the Democrats. Events are schoolmasters, and this triumph only quickened their march toward the final catastrophe. Cassius M. Clay, who had espoused the Whig cause in this canvass with great vigor and zeal, and on anti-slavery grounds, re-enlisted in the battle against slavery, and resolved to prosecute it by new methods. He had been sorely tried by Mr. Clay's Alabama letter and the Whig defeat, but he was now armed with fresh courage, and resolved to "carry the war into Africa" by the establishment of his newspaper, the "True American," in Lexington, in his own State. His arraignment of slavery was so eloquent and masterly that a large meeting of slave-holders appointed a committee to wait on him, and request the discontinuance of his paper. His reply was: "Go, tell your secret conclave of cowardly assassins that Cassius M. Clay knows his rights, and how to defend them." These words thrilled all lovers of liberty, and sounded to them like a trumpet call to battle. Another fruitful event was the effort of Massachusetts, in the fall of this year, to protect her colored seamen in the ports of Charleston and New Orleans, where they were seized on merchant ships and sold into slavery under local police regulations. When Mr. Hoar visited Charleston as the accredited agent of his State for the purpose of taking measures to test the constitutionality of these regulations, the Legislature of South Carolina, by a vote of one hundred and nineteen against one, passed a series of outrageous resolutions culminating in a request to the Governor to expel him from the State as a confessed disturber of the peace. He was obliged summarily to depart, as the only means of escaping the vengeance of the mob. This open and insolent defiance of the national authority could not fail to strengthen anti-slavery opinion in the Northern States. The same end was served by an unexpected movement in New Hampshire. This State, like Massachusetts and Vermont, had taken ground against annexation, but it wheeled into line after Polk was nominated. John P. Hale, however, then a Democratic member of Congress from that State, refused to follow his party, and for this reason, after he had been formally declared its choice for re-election, he was thrown overboard, and another candidate nominated. No election, however, was effected, and his seat remained vacant during the 29th Congress, but he obtained a seat in the Legislature in 1846, and the following year was chosen United States Senator, while Amos Tuck, afterward a prominent Free Soiler, was elected to the Lower House of Congress. These were pregnant events, and especially the triumph of Hale, who became a very formidable champion of freedom, and a thorn in the side of slavery till it perished.
In the meantime the hunger for immediate annexation had been whetted by the election of Mr. Polk, and its champions hurried up their work, and pushed it by methods in open disregard of the Constitution and of our treaty obligations with Mexico. In the last hours of the administration of John Tyler the atrocious plot received its finishing touch and the Executive approval, and, in the apt words of the ablest and fairest historian of the transaction, "the bridal dress in which Calhoun had led the beloved of the slaveocracy to the Union was the torn and tattered Constitution of the United States." War with Mexico, as prophesied by the Whigs, speedily followed. As early as August, 1845, General Taylor was ordered by President Polk to advance to a position on the Nueces. In March of the following year, in pursuance of further orders, his army again advanced, taking its position on the east bank of the Rio Grande, and, of course, on the soil of Mexico. Hostilities naturally followed, and after two battles the President, in his message to Congress, declared that "American blood has been shed on American soil." This robust Executive falsehood, with which the slave power compelled him to face the civilized world, must always hold a very high rank in the annals of public audacity and crime. It is what Thomas Carlyle might have styled "the second power of a lie," and is only rivaled by the parallel falsehood of Congress in declaring that "by the act of the Republic of Mexico a state of war exists between that Government and the United States." In the message of the President referred to, he recommended that a considerable sum of money be placed at his disposal for the purpose of negotiating a peace, and it was on the consideration of this message that David Wilmot fortunately obtained the floor, and moved his memorable proviso for the interdiction of slavery in any territory which might be wrested from Mexico by our arms. This was the session of Congress for 1846-47, and the proposition passed the House with great unanimity as to the Northern members. At the following session of Congress, on the 28th of February, 1848, the proviso again came before the House, and the motion to lay it on the table failed, all the Whigs and a large majority of the Democrats from the free States voting in the negative. It passed the House on the 13th of December following, on a similar division of parties and sections, but the Senate refused to concur, and the Thirtieth Congress adjourned without any provisions whatever for the organization or government of our recently acquired Territories.
It is worth while to notice in passing that on the first introduction of the Wilmot proviso, in August, 1846, General Cass was decidedly in its favor, and regretted that it had been talked to death by the long speech of John Davis; but on the 24th of December, 1847, he wrote his famous "Nicholson letter," proclaiming his gospel of "popular sovereignty" in the Territories, which proved the seed- plot of immeasurable national trouble and disaster. "I am strongly impressed with the opinion," said he, "that a great change is going on in the public mind on this subject—in my own mind as well as others"; and he had before declared, on the 19th of February, that the passage of the Wilmot proviso "would be death to the war, death to all hope of getting an acre of territory, death to the administration, and death to the Democratic party." This was thoroughly characteristic, and in perfect harmony with his action, already referred to, respecting the Quintuple treaty; but it showed how the political waters were being troubled by the slavery question, and how impossible it was to accommodate the growing anti-slavery feeling of the country by any shallow expedients.
But another conspiracy against freedom was now hatched; and if the Senate had strangled the Wilmot proviso, it was gratifying to find the House ready to strangle this monster of senatorial birth. I allude to the now almost forgotten "Clayton Compromise," which passed the Senate by a decided majority on the 26th of July. By submitting the whole question of slavery in all our Territories to the Supreme Court of the United States, as then constituted, it would almost certainly have spawned the curse in all of them, including Oregon, which had long been exposed to peril and massacre by the reckless opposition of our slave-masters to a government there without the recognition of slavery. The defeat of this nefarious proposition, which was happily followed by the passage of a bill giving Oregon a territorial government, is largely due to Alexander H. Stephens, whose motion to lay it on the table in the House prevailed by a small majority. In this action he had the courage to separate himself from the great body of the leading men of his own section; but in doing so he was prompted by his supreme devotion to slavery. This he has since denied and labored to explain in his private correspondence and published works, but the record is fatally against him. He was unwilling to trust the interests of the South in the hands of the Supreme Court, and his speech of August 7th, in the House of Representatives, in defense of his motion, gave very plausible reasons for his apprehensions; but the Dred Scott decision of a few years later showed how completely he misjudged that tribunal, and how opportunely his blindness came to the rescue of freedom. It seems now to have been providential; for in this Continental plot against liberty the superior sagacity of Calhoun and his associates was demonstrated by subsequent events, while Mr. Stephens, with his great influence in the South, could almost certainly have secured its triumph if he had become its champion instead of its enemy.
CHAPTER III. THE CAMPAIGN OF 1848—ITS INCIDENTS AND RESULTS. The approach of another presidential campaign—Party divisions threatened by the Wilmot proviso—Nomination of Gen. Cass—The "Nicholson Letter"—Democratic division in New York—The nomination of Gen. Taylor—Whig divisions—Birth of the Free Soil party—The Buffalo Convention—Nomination of Van Buren and Adams—Difficulty of uniting on Van Buren—Incidents—Rev. Joshua Leavitt—The work of the campaign—Mr. Webster and Free Soil—Greeley and Seward— Abuse of Whig bolters—Remarkable results of the canvass.
The approach of another presidential year was thus marked by a steadily growing interest in the question of slavery. The conflict with it seemed far more irrepressible than ever before. The Liberty party had nominated John P. Hale as its candidate in 1847. The Whigs in Massachusetts were threatened with an incurable division into "Conscience Whigs" and "Cotton Whigs," growing out of the question of annexation and the government of our new Territories. The same causes were dividing the Democrats of New York, and the feud was seriously aggravated by remembering the defeat of Mr. Van Buren in 1844, for the one sin of opposing the immediate annexation of Texas, while a large majority of the party favored his nomination. The Van Buren element in the Democratic party threatened revolt in other States, while both Whigs and Democrats in the North were committed to the policy of the Wilmot proviso. This was to be the great question of the ensuing national canvass, and the roused spirit of the people of the free States seemed clearly to foreshadow the triumph of freedom in the organization and government of our Mexican acquisitions.
But the virtue and courage of our politicians were now to be severely tried. The power of party discipline and the tempting bait of the spoils were to be employed as never before in swerving men from their convictions. The South, of course, was a perfect unit, and fully resolved upon the spread of slavery over our Territories. It had always been the absolute master of the Northern Democracy, and had no dream of anything less than the supremacy of its own will. Its favorite candidate was now Gen. Cass, and he was nominated by the Baltimore National Convention on the 22d day of May. It was a fit nomination for the party of slavery. He had been thirsting for it many years, and had earned it by multiplied acts of the most obsequious and crouching servility to his Southern overseers. Again and again he had crawled in the dust at their feet, and, if they could not now reward him with the presidency, it seemed utterly useless for any Northern man to hope for their favor. The "Nicholson letter" was not all that the South wanted, but it was a very important concession, and with Gen. Cass as its interpreter it meant the nearest thing possible to a complete surrender. In this National Convention the State of New York had two sets of delegates, both of which were formally admitted, as a compromise; but the members of the Van Buren or Free Soil wing refused to take their seats, and thus held themselves in reserve for such revolutionary work as should afterward seem to them advisable.
The Whig National Convention met in Philadelphia on the 7th of June. The party seemed completely demoralized by the defeat of Mr. Clay in the previous canvass, and was now in search of "an available candidate," and inspired by the same miserable policy of expediency which had been so barren of results in 1840. The Northern Whigs appeared to be unanimously and zealously committed to the prohibition of slavery in our Territories, but equally unanimous and zealous in the determination to succeed in the canvass. For more than a year Gen. Taylor had been growing into favor with the party as a candidate, and he had now become decidedly formidable. The spectacle was a melancholy one, since it demonstrated the readiness of this once respectable old party to make complete shipwreck of everything wearing the semblance of principle, for the sake of success. General Taylor had never identified himself in any way with the Whig party. He had spent his life as a mere soldier on the frontier, and had never given a vote. He had frankly said he had not made up his mind upon the questions which divided the parties. He not only refused to be the exponent of Whig principles, but accepted the nomination of bodies of men not known as Whigs, who scouted the idea of being bound by the acts of any national convention. He was a very large slave-owner, and thus identified in interest, and presumably in sympathy, with the South; but he could not be induced to define his position. His active supporters were chiefly from the slave-holding States and those free States which had generally given Democratic majorities, while the men most violent in their opposition to the Wilmot proviso were his most conspicuous followers; but the Whigs from the free States vouched for his soundness on the slavery issue. His letters contained nothing but vague generalities, and he utterly declined to commit himself on the question that was stirring the nation to its depths. To the different sections of the Union he wore a different face, and each section seemed confident that the other would be duped, while cordially joining in a common struggle for the spoils of office which constituted the sole bond of union. His early letters, before he fell into the hands of the politicians, were frank and unstudied, reflecting his character as a plain old soldier without any political training; but his later letters were diplomatic, not wanting in style and finish, and obviously written by others. His second letter to Allison, on which the campaign was finally fought, was written in the room of Alexander H. Stephens, in Washington, after consulting with Toombs and Crittenden, and afterward forwarded to Taylor, who gave it to the world as his own. He had constantly about him a sort of political body-guard, or "committee of safety," to direct his way during the canvass, and no one could reasonably pretend that any principle whatever would be settled by the election. He had whipped the Mexicans, and the Whig platform was "Rough and Ready," "A little more Grape, Captain Bragg," and political success.
The nomination, moreover, was accomplished by methods which made it exceedingly exasperating to Mr. Clay and his friends. The treachery of the Whig managers to their great leader exceeded that which had sacrificed him at the Harrisburg Convention of 1839. The Whigs of Virginia nominated Taylor on the credit of a forged dispatch, to the effect that Kentucky had decided in his favor, and thus abandoned her favorite son. General Scott had expressed his willingness to run for Vice President if Clay should be nominated for President, but the member of Congress who had been authorized to make this known kept it a secret. Clay allowed his name to go before the Convention on the assurance of Governor Bebb that Ohio would stand by him, but the delegation voted for Scott. On the first ballot, even seven delegates from Kentucky voted for Taylor, and he was nominated by 171 votes, with 63 for Scott, and only 32 for Clay. Of the votes for Taylor, on the first ballot, 97 were cast by States that had voted for Polk in 1844; and of the 94 Whig delegates from the Free States he received the votes of only four. He was nominated as the candidate of the Whigs who believed in the extension of slavery, by a Convention which repeatedly and contemptuously voted down the Wilmot proviso, already endorsed by all the Whig Legislatures of the Free States, while no platform of principles was adopted; and Horace Greeley was thus perfectly justified in branding it as "the slaughter-house of Whig principles." Such an exhibition of shameless political prostitution has rarely been witnessed, and three of the leading Whigs of Massachusetts— Charles Allen, Henry Wilson, and Stephen C. Phillips—left the Convention in disgust, and severed their connection with the party forever.
In this state of the country, and of the old parties, a new organization and another nomination became inevitable. The followers of Mr. Van Buren, in New York and other States, were aching for the opportunity to make themselves felt in avenging the wrong done to their chief in 1844, and were quite ready to strike hands with the members of the Liberty party. The members of that party were generally ready to withdraw their candidate for President and unite with the anti-slavery Whigs and Democrats of the Northern States, if an honorable basis of action could be agreed upon. The "Conscience Whigs" of Massachusetts, and thousands of Whigs in other States, who regarded the freedom of our Territories as a vital issue, and were thoroughly soured by the nomination of General Taylor, were equally anxious to fuse with the other elements of political discontent, and make their voices heard in a new and independent organization. There was little time for delay, and as soon as the troubled political elements would permit, a call was issued for a National Free Soil Convention, at Buffalo, on the 9th of August.
The Convention was historic. It marked a new and significant departure in party politics, and was a conspicuous milestone in the anti-slavery journey. It met in a spacious pavilion, and was one of the largest political gatherings ever assembled in the country, and animated by unbounded earnestness and enthusiasm. Its leading spirits were men of character and undisputed ability. The "Barnburners" of New York were largely in attendance, including such veteran leaders as Preston King, Benjamin F. Butler, David Dudley Field, Samuel J. Tilden, and James W. Nye. Ohio sent a formidable force headed by Joshua R. Giddings, Salmon Chase, and Samuel Lewis. The "Conscience Whigs" of Massachusetts were well represented, with Charles Francis Adams, Stephen C. Phillips, and Francis W. Bird, in the front. The Liberty party sent its delegates, including such men as the Rev. Joshua Leavitt, Samuel Lewis, and Henry B. Stanton. The disappointed Clay Whigs were there, led by such representative men as Joseph L. White, who were eager to lay hold of any weapon by which they could hope to strike down the betrayers of the Whig cause. The "Land Reformers" and "Workingmen" of New York were represented, as also the special advocates of "Cheap postage for the people," who longed to be rid of the tariff of twenty-five cents on the privilege of sending a single letter through the mails, and whose wishes afterward found expression in the platform.
Could these elements be harmonized? Could the bolters from the Whig party overcome their traditional hatred of Martin Van Buren? If so, could the Liberty party men be prevailed upon to give up their chosen candidate, and labor for the election of the "foxy old politician" whose reputation for tricky and ambidextrous political methods had become proverbial? If not, could the Barnburners, with their large following, be united on the candidate of the Liberty party, or some new man? These questions had to be met; but preliminary to the nomination was the construction of a platform. This was accomplished without serious difficulty, and, considering the circumstances of the country, it was perhaps the most admirable declaration of principles ever promulgated by any party. It was chiefly the work of Mr. Chase, assisted by Charles Francis Adams, Benjamin F. Butler, and others, and it declared, among its pregnant and telling sentences, that "Congress has no more power to make a slave than to make a king," and that "it is the duty of the Federal Government to relieve itself of all responsibility for the existence or continuance of slavery wherever that Government possesses authority to legislate and is thus responsible for its existence." The reading of these declarations called forth thunders of applause, while the last plank in the platform "resolved, that we inscribe on our banner free soil, free speech, free labor, and free men, and under it we will fight on and fight ever, until a triumphant victory shall reward our exertions."
The nominating Convention assembled in the large Universalist Church in Buffalo. Mr. Van Buren was not understood as desiring the nomination, but it was now authoritatively stated that he would accept it if tendered, and that he would, without hesitation or evasions, accept the platform of the Convention. The different elements of this movement had been in conference, and the time for action was at hand. In common with my Whig associates, I had all along felt that I could not support Mr. Van Buren under any circumstances; but the pervading tone of earnestness in the Convention, and the growing spirit of political fraternity, had modified our views. We saw that several of the great leaders of the Liberty party were quite ready to meet the "Barnburners" on common ground. It seemed very desirable to combine with so large a body of helpers, and to profit by their experience and training in the school of practical politics. Mr. Van Buren had certainly gone great lengths as the servant of the slave power, but there was one great and vital issue to freedom on which he had taken the right side, and maintained it without flinching in the presence of a great temptation; and for this he had been anathematized by the South, and driven into retirement. If nominated by the anti- slavery men of the free States, and squarely committed to their principles, it was altogether improbable, if not morally impossible, that he would again lend himself to the service of slavery. Besides, the whole country had been so demoralized by this evil that it was not easy to find any public man of eminence whose record had been spotless; and it was a part of the work of earnest anti-slavery men to forget party memories and prejudices for the sake of the cause, and to cultivate the virtues of hope and trust, rather than the spirit of doubt and suspicion, in dealing with a man who was now ready to unfurl the flag of freedom, and had been stricken down by her foes. The nomination of Mr. Van Buren would undoubtedly mean the freedom of our Territories and the denationalization of slavery, and this was the great point. In this movement there was no element of compromise. It was wholly unhampered by a Southern wing; and even should the nominee betray the men who now trusted him, their choice of him, as their standard bearer, would be vindicated by the circumstances of the hour.
Mr. Chase, then in the prime of his manhood, and a splendid figure, was the president of this nominating Convention, and its work proceeded. There was a feeling of intense anxiety about the result, and an earnestness and real seriousness which I have never witnessed in any other Convention. There were leading Whigs and Liberty party men, whose action in respect to Mr. Van Buren was not yet generally known. Several delegates remarked, "I want to know what Samuel Lewis will do before I decide," or, "I want to hear from Joshua Leavitt." After the nomination of Mr. Van Buren had been moved, Mr. Leavitt rose from his seat, and all eyes were instantly turned upon him. He was then in middle life, and his tall and erect form and fine physiognomy were singularly striking. He was full of emotion, and seemed at first to lack the power of utterance, while the stillness of death prevailed in the Convention. He began by saying: "Mr. Chairman, this is the most solemn experience of my life. I feel as if in the immediate presence of the Divine Spirit." He paused here for a few moments, while there did not seem to be a dry eye in the Convention; but he proceeded grandly with his speech, defined his position, and seconded the motion for Mr. Van Buren's nomination, upon which the mingled political enthusiasm and religious fervor of the Convention broke over all bounds, and utterly defied description. Men laughed and cried at the same time, and gave themselves up to the perfect abandon of their feelings. All divisions had completely died away, and the nomination of Mr. Van Buren by acclamation became a matter of course. Charles Francis Adams was then nominated for Vice President, when the Convention adjourned, and its members returned to their homes to prepare for the coming canvass under the banner of "Van Buren and Free Soil—Adams and Liberty."
The new national party was now launched, and the work of the presidential canvass began in earnest. John A. Dix, then one of the United States Senators from New York, was nominated for Governor, with Seth M. Gates, the anti-slavery colleague of Adams and Giddings in Congress, for Lieutenant-Governor. The Free Soil State Convention of Ohio set the ball in motion in that State, and the new party, by securing the balance of power in the Legislature, was able to place Mr. Chase in the Senate of the United States. Stephen C. Phillips was nominated for Governor in Massachusetts, where the movement was very formidable, and exceedingly annoying to the "Cotton Whigs." Like conventions were held in Indiana and other free States, organizations effected, and candidates nominated, while the movement extended to the border slave states, in which it afterward did excellent service. The canvass of the Democrats was not remarkably enthusiastic. The division of the party and the probable loss of the State of New York had a very depressing influence. The Whig canvass was perhaps marked by still less earnestness and spirit. It was hollow and false, and the best men in the party felt it. The only enthusiasm of the campaign was in the new party, and it was perfectly spontaneous and fervid. The most remarkable feature of this contest was the bitterness of the Whigs toward the Free Soilers, and especially those who had deserted from the Whig ranks. They seemed to be maddened by the imputation that they were not perfectly sound on the Free Soil issue. This was particularly true of Mr. Webster, who had been branded by Mr. Adams as a "Traitor to freedom," as far back as the year 1843, and who afterward justified these strong words in his "Seventh of March Speech." In the Whig State Convention of Massachusetts, held at Springfield, in 1847, Mr. Webster, speaking of the Wilmot proviso, had said: "Did I not commit myself to that in the year 1838, fully, entirely? I do not consent that more recent discoverers shall take out a patent for the discovery. Allow me to say, sir, it is not their thunder." He then claimed Free Soil as a distinctive Whig doctrine, and in a speech at Abingdon, he now said: "The gentlemen who have joined this new party, from among the Whigs, pretend that they are greater lovers of liberty and greater haters of slavery than those they leave behind them. I do not admit it. I do not admit any such thing. I think we are as good Free Soil men as they are." The same ground was urged by Washington Hunt, James Brooks, and other leading Whigs; and Mr. Greeley declared that "at no time previously had Whig inculcations throughout the free States been so decidedly and strongly hostile to the extension of slavery, and so determined in requiring its inhibition by Congress, as during the canvass of 1848." These statements appear very remarkable, when it is remembered that the Whig nominee was a Louisiana planter, and that he was nominated at the bidding of the slave-holding wing of the party, and by a convention which not only contemptuously voted down the Wilmot proviso, but treated its advocates as "fanatics." But even Governor Seward strangely clung to the old party after the death and burial of its conscience, and seriously brought his personal integrity into question by urging the support of General Taylor upon those who favored the abolition of slavery. In a speech at Cleveland, Ohio, in October of that year, he said: "Freedom insists on the emancipation and development of labor; slavery demands a soil moistened with tears and blood—freedom a soil that exults under the elastic tread of man in his native majesty. These elements divide and classify the American people into two parties," and he proceeded to argue as if the Whigs and Democrats were thus divided, when he knew that both were in the absolute control of the slave power.
The Free Soilers, of course, did not particularly relish these moral lectures on slavery by men who had sold their principles at public auction for the chance of office and plunder through the elevation of a mere military chieftain to the Presidency. But the Whigs were not content with claiming the complete monopoly of anti- slavery virtue, and parading it before the country; they became abusive and insulting to the full measure of their insincerity. Their talk about "renegades" and "apostates" anticipated the abuse heaped upon the Greeley men of 1872, when the Republican party had so completely triumphed over the integrity of its earlier life. The course of the Whigs in Indiana supplies a striking illustration. After the presidential election of 1844, I resolved that I would never vote for another slaveholder, and the course of events and my own reflections had constantly strengthened this purpose. I saw no honorable way of escape, and my position was well known to my Whig brethren; but, as soon as General Taylor was nominated, the policy of browbeating and threats was invoked. I had no taste for politics, and had determined to devote myself entirely to my profession. I was especially anxious to avoid any strife with the Whigs, who were overwhelmingly in the ascendant in Eastern Indiana, and in whose ranks were most of my clients and best friends. But the party leaders talked to me in the imperative mood. They saw my embarrassment, and seemed determined to coerce me into submission by the supposed extremity of my situation; and I was obliged to offer them open defiance. I was made an elector for Van Buren and Adams in the Fourth Indiana District, and entered upon the contest with a will; and from that time forth I was subjected to a torrent of billingsgate which rivalled the fish market. Words were neither minced nor mollified, but made the vehicles of political wrath and the explosions of personal malice. The charge of "abolitionism" was flung at me everywhere, and it is impossible now to realize the odium then attaching to that term by the general opinion. I was an "amalgamationist" and a "woolly-head." I was branded as the "apostle of disunion" and "the orator of free-dirt." It was a standing charge of the Whigs that I carried in my pocket a lock of the hair of Frederick Douglass, to regale my senses with its aroma when I grew faint. They declared that my audiences consisted of "eleven men, three boys, and a negro," and sometimes I could not deny this inventory was not very far from the truth. I was threatened with mob violence by my own neighbors, and treated as if slavery had been an established institution of the State, with its machinery of overseers and background of pauperized whites; while these same Whigs, as if utterly unconscious of the irony of their professions, uniformly resolved, in their conventions, that "the Whig party is the only true Free Soil party."
I was not, of course, a non-resistant in the warfare, and for two months I gave myself up to the work absolutely. I was seriously embarrassed in the outset by the question of transportation, having neither horse nor carriage, nor the financial ability to procure either; but an anti-slavery Quaker, and personal friend, named Jonathan Macy, came to my rescue. He furnished me an old white horse, fully seventeen hands high, and rather thin in flesh, but which served my purpose pretty well. I named him "Old Whitey," in honor of General Taylor's famous war steed, and sallied forth in the work of the campaign. Having a first-class pair of lungs and much physical endurance, I frequently spoke as often as three times a day, and generally from two to three hours at each meeting. I spoke at cross-roads, in barns, in pork houses, in saw-mills, in any place in which a few or many people would hear me; but I was rarely permitted to enter any of the churches. I was so perfectly swallowed up in my work and dominated by the singleness of my purpose, that I took no thought of anything else; and the vigor of my invective in dealing with the scurrilous attacks of my assailants was very keenly realized, and, I believe, universally acknowledged. With the truth on my side, I was delighted to find myself perfectly able, single-handed, to fight my battle against the advantages of superior talent and the trained leadership of men of established reputations on the stump. But the fight, as I have said, was unspeakably relentless, vitriolic and exhausting, and nothing could redeem it but an overmastering sense of duty and self-respect. The worst passions of humanity were set on fire among the Whigs by this provoking insurrection against their party as the mere tool of slavery, while animosities were engendered that still survive, and which many men have carried to their graves. This is only a single illustration of the spirit of the canvass, for similar conflicts marked the struggle in Ohio, Massachusetts and other States, and they were made inevitable by the desperation of a party already dead in its trespasses, and which deserved a funeral instead of a triumph.
The results of this contest were most remarkable. General Taylor was elected but his triumph was the death of the Whig party. The long-coveted prize of the presidency was snatched from General Cass, and the Democratic party divided and humiliated by its struggle to serve two masters, while the friends of Mr. Van Buren had their longed-for revenge. The Free Soil ticket received a little less than three hundred thousand votes, and failed to carry the electoral vote of a single State; but the effect of the movement was inestimably important. It seated Chase in the United States Senate from Ohio, and sent to the lower branch of Congress a sufficient number of anti-slavery men from different States to hold the balance of power in that body. It was very savingly felt in Congress in July of this year, on the vote by which Oregon, with a territory nearly equal to that of the thirteen original States, narrowly escaped the damnation of slavery. It emphasized the demand of the million for "cheap postage," and the freedom of the public domain, and thus helped stereotype these great measures into law; and it played its part in creating the public opinion which compelled the admission of California as a free State. These were great achievements, but they were mere preliminaries to the magnificent and far-reaching work of succeeding years, of which the revolt of 1848 was the promise and pledge.
CHAPTER IV. REMINISCENCES OF THE THIRTY-FIRST CONGRESS. Novel political complications—The Compromise Measures—First election to Congress—Sketch of the "immortal nine"—The speakership and Wm. J. Brown—Gen. Taylor and the Wilmot proviso—Slave-holding banter—Compromise resolutions of Clay, and retreat of Northern Whigs—Visit to Gen. Taylor—To Mr. Clay—His speeches—Webster's seventh of March speech—Character of Calhoun—Speech on the slavery question.
The scheme of "pacification" and "final settlement," which was launched in 1850, under the leadership of Henry Clay, constitutes one of the chief landmarks in the history of the great conflict between freedom and slavery. It was the futile attempt of legislative diplomacy to escape the fatal logic of antecedent facts. The war with Mexico, like the annexation of Texas which paved the way for it, was inspired by the lust for slave territory. No sophistry could disguise this fact, nor could its significance be overstated. The prophets of slavery saw clearly that restriction meant destruction. They girded themselves for battle on this issue, and were not at all placated by Northern disclaimers of "abolitionism," and reiterated disavowals of any right or purpose to intermeddle with slavery as the creature of State law. Its existence was menaced by the policy of confinement and ultimate suffocation; and therefore no compromise of the pending strife over its prohibition in New Mexico, Utah and California was possible.
This strife was aggravated by its peculiar relations to the dominant political parties. The sacrifice of Martin Van Buren in 1844, because of his manly letter on the annexation of Texas, had been a sore trial to his devoted friends. They could neither forgive nor forget it; and when the opportunity for revenge finally came in 1848, they laid hold of it with the sincerest and most heartfelt satisfaction. As we have seen, they bolted from their party, threw themselves into the Free Soil movement, and thus made the defeat of Gen. Cass inevitable by the election of Gen. Taylor. Thousands of these bolting Democrats, particularly in the State of New York, cared more for the personal and political fortunes of Mr. Van Buren than for the slavery question, as their subsequent return to their party allegiance made manifest; but their action was none the less decisive in the emergency which called it forth. The trouble in the Whig camp was also serious. The last hopes of Mr. Clay and his worshipers had perished forever in the nomination of the hero of the Mexican war and the owner of two hundred slaves, by a Convention which became famous as "the slaughter house of Whig principles." Very many of these Clay Whigs, like the devotees of Mr. Van Buren, would have been satisfied with almost any dispensation of the slavery issue if their chief had been nominated, but they were now enlisted in the anti-slavery army, and, like Joseph L. White, of Indiana, vociferously shouted for "liberty and revenge." Mr. Webster and his friends were also profoundly disgusted, and lent a strong hand to the work of party insubordination, while the election of Gen. Taylor was quite naturally followed by formidable party coalitions. One of these, as already stated, made Salmon P. Chase a senator of the United States from Ohio, as John P. Hale had been chosen from New Hampshire some time before, and Charles Sumner came in a little later from Massachusetts; and the House of Representatives now contained nine distinctly anti-slavery men, chosen from different States by kindred combinations, who had completely renounced their allegiance to the old parties, and were able to wield the balance of power in that body. Such were the complications of the great problem which confronted the Thirty- first Congress at the opening of its first session, on the third day of December, 1849.
In this Congress I was a representative, for the first time, of the Fourth Indiana District. This district contained a large Quaker population, and in the matter of liberality and progress was in advance of all other portions of the State; and yet the immeasurable wrath and scorn which were lavished upon the men who deserted the Whig party on account of the nomination of General Taylor can scarcely be conceived. The friends of a life-time were suddenly turned to enemies, and their words were often dipped in venom. It seemed as if a section of Kentucky or Virginia had in some way usurped the geography of Eastern Indiana, bringing with it the discipline of the slave-master, and a considerable importation of "white trash." The contest was bitter beyond all precedent; but after a hard fight, and by a union of Free Soilers, Democrats, and Independent Whigs, I was elected by a small majority. Owing to serious illness, resulting from the excitement and overwork of the canvass, I did not reach Washington till the 19th of December—just in time to cast my vote for speaker on the fifty-sixth ballot in this first important "dead-lock" in the organization of the House. With the exception of two Indiana members, I had no personal acquaintance in either branch of Congress, and, on entering the old Hall of Representatives, my first thought was to find the Free Soil members, whose political fortunes and experience had been so similar to my own. The seat of Mr. Giddings was pointed out to me in the northwest corner of the Hall, where I found the stalwart champion of free speech busy with his pen. He received me with evident cordiality, and at once sent a page for the other Free Soil members. Soon the "immortal nine," as we were often sportively styled, were all together: David Wilmot, of Pennsylvania, then famous as the author of the "Provsio," short and corpulent in person, and emphatic in speech; Preston King, of New York, with his still more remarkable rotundity of belt, and a face beaming with good humor; the eccentric and witty "Jo Root," of Ohio, always ready to break a lance with the slave-holders; Charles Allen, of Massachusetts, the quiet, dignified, clear-headed and genial gentleman, but a good fighter and the unflinching enemy of slavery; Charles Durkee, of Wisconsin, the fine-looking and large-hearted philanthropist, whose enthusiasm never cooled; Amos Tuck, of New Hampshire, amiable and somewhat feminine in appearance, but firm in purpose; John W. Howe, of Pennsylvania, with a face radiant with smiles and good will, and full of anti-slavery fervor; and Joshua R. Giddings, of Ohio, with his broad shoulders, giant frame, unquenchable love of freedom, and almost as familiar with the slavery question, in all its aspects, as he was with the alphabet. These, all now gone to their reckoning, were the elect of freedom in the lower branch of this memorable Congress. They all greeted me warmly, and the more so, perhaps, because my reported illness and doubtful recovery had awakened a peculiar interest in my fortunes at that time, on account of the political situation, and the possible significance of a single vote. John P. Hale happened to enter the hall during these congratulations, and still further lighted up the scene by his jolly presence; while Dr. Bailey, of the "National Era," also joined in the general welcome, and at once confirmed all the good opinions I had formed of this courageous and single- minded friend of the slave. I was delighted with all my brethren, and at once entered fully into their plans and counsels.