An incident connected with the organization of the House, which caused intense excitement at the time, seems to deserve some notice. It occurred on the 12th of December, while William J. Brown, of Indiana, was being voted for as the Democratic candidate for Speaker. He was a pro-slavery Democrat, through and through, and commanded the entire and unhesitating confidence of Southern members; and yet, on the last ballot for him, he received the votes of Allen, Durkee, Giddings, King, and Wilmot, and came within two votes of an election. The support of Mr. Brown by the leading Free Soilers was a great surprise to both sides of the House, and the suspicion that some secret arrangement had been made gave birth to a rumor to that effect. After the balloting, while Mr. Bailey, of Virginia, was on the floor, Mr. Ashmun, of Massachusetts, asked him whether a secret correspondence had not taken place between some member of the Free Soil party and Mr. Brown, by which the latter had agreed to constitute the Committees on the Judiciary, on Territories, and on the District of Columbia, in a manner satisfactory to that party. Mr. Bailey scouted the idea, and asked Mr. Ashmun what authority he had for the statement. Mr. Ashmun replied, "Common rumor"; to which Mr. Bailey rejoined, "Does not the gentleman know that common rumor is a common liar?" Turning to Mr. Brown, he said, "Has any such correspondence taken place?" Mr. Brown shook his head, and Mr. Bailey became more emphatic than ever in his denial. But the fever was now up, and the Southern members scented treason. Several of them withheld their votes from Mr. Brown because of his Free Soil support, and thus prevented his election. He was in a very trying dilemma with his Southern friends, while the Free Soilers who had supported him were also placed in a novel predicament, and subjected to catechism. The fact was finally revealed in the course of a long and exciting debate, that Mr. Wilmot had entered into a correspondence with Mr. Brown on the subject of the organization of the Committees named, and that the latter had promised in writing to constitute them as stated in Mr. Ashumn's inquiry— declaring that he had "always been opposed to the extension of slavery," and believed that "the Federal Government should be relieved from the responsibility of slavery where it had the constitutional right to abolish it." This, in substance, was the whole Free Soil gospel; and the disappointment and rage of Southern members, when the letter was produced, can be more easily imagined than described. Mr. Brown labored very painfully to explain his letter and pacify his Southern friends, but the effort was utterly vain. He was branded with treachery and duplicity by Bailey, Harris, Burt, Venable, Stanton, and McMullen, while no man from the South pretended to excuse him. In the midst of great excitement he withdrew from the contest for Speaker, and the catastrophe of his secret maneuver was so unspeakably humiliating that even his enemies pitied him. But he was unjustly dealt with by his Southern brethren, whose fear of betrayal and morbid sensitiveness made all coolness of judgment impossible. While he possessed very social and kindly personal traits of character, no man in this Congress was more inflexibly true to slavery, as his subsequent career amply demonstrated. If he had been chosen Speaker he would doubtless have placed some of the Free Soil members on the Committees specified, but the whole power of his office would have been studiously subservient to the behests of the slave oligarchy; and nothing could excuse the conduct of Mr. Wilmot and his associates but their entire ignorance of his political character and antecedents. I regretted this affair most sincerely, for I knew Mr. Brown well, and could undoubtedly have prevented the negotiation if I had been present.
The Speakership was obviously the first question on which the slave power must be met in the Thirty-first Congress. No question could more completely have presented the entire controversy between the free and slave States which had so stirred the country during the previous eighteen months. In view of the well-nigh autocratic power of the Speaker over legislative measures, no honest Free Soiler could vote for a candidate who was not known to be sound on the great issue. We could not support Howell Cobb, of Georgia, the nominee of the Democratic party, however anxious our Democratic constituents might be to have us do so; nor could we vote for Robert C. Winthrop, of Massachusetts, to please the Whigs and semi-Free Soilers who affiliated with them, since Giddings, Palfrey and others had demonstrated that he was wholly untrustworthy in facing the ragged issue of slavery. This had been proved by his acts as Speaker in the preceding Congress. We therefore united in the determination to vote for neither of these candidates. The contest was protracted till December 22d, when, on the sixty third ballot, Mr. Cobb was chosen. The result was effected, by adopting, at the instigation of the Whigs, what was called the "plurality rule," the operation of which enabled a minority to choose the speaker. The Whigs, when they entered upon this proceeding, well knew that the Free Soilers were willing and anxious to vote for Thaddeus Stevens, or any other reliable member of the party. They well knew that none of us would vote for Mr. Winthrop, under any circumstances, and for excellent reasons which we had announced. Further, they well knew that without Free Soil votes Mr. Cobb would certainly be chosen; and yet the angry cry went up from the Whigs in Congress and throughout the Northern States that the Free Soilers had elected a slave-holder to be speaker of the House! For a time the ridiculous charge served the purpose of its authors, but the subsequent career of Mr. Winthrop finally and entirely vindicated the sagacity of the men whose resolute opposition had thwarted his ambition.
In the further organization of the House Mr. Campbell, a Tennessee slave-holder, was chosen clerk on the twentieth ballot, by the help of Southern Democrats, over John W. Forney, who was then the particular friend of James Buchanan, and who had made himself so conspicuous by his abuse of anti-slavery men that the Free Soil members could not give him their support. On the eighth ballot Mr. Glossbrenner, of Pennsylvania, the nominee of the Democrats, was chosen sergeant-at-arms, and after fourteen ineffectual ballots for doorkeeper, Mr. Horner, the Whig incumbent in the preceding Congress, was continued by resolution of the House. This was on January 18th, and the organization of the House was not yet completed, but further proceedings in this direction were now postponed till the first of March.
In the meantime the slavery question had been receiving daily attention. The strife over the Speakership had necessarily involved it, and constantly provoked its animated discussion. The great issue was the Congressional prohibition of slavery in the Territories, then popularly known as the "Wilmot proviso"; and the first vote on it was taken December 31st, upon the motion to lay on the table Mr. Root's resolution which embodied it. The yeas were 83, nays 101; being a majority of only 18 in its favor. The Southern men seemed to gather hope and courage from this vote. On January 4th, the President sent in his special message relative to California and New Mexico, announcing his famous "Non-action" policy, which was simply another name for the "Non-intervention" dogma of Gen. Cass. A year before he had declared that the new Territories must not be "surrendered to the pistol and the bowie-knife"; but a new light now dawned upon him, and he advised Congress to leave the Territories to themselves till their people should be prepared to ask admission into the Union as States. He talked glibly about "geographical parties" and the "operation of natural causes" as any trained Whig politician, and seemed to have totally forgotten his repeated pledges not to interfere with the action of Congress respecting "domestic questions." While the hand of the Executive was thus at work, extreme men in both Houses led the way in violent and inflammatory speeches. "When we ask for justice, and to be let alone," said Mr. Clingman, of North Carolina, "we are met by the senseless and insane cry of Union, Union! Sir, I am disgusted with it. When it comes from Northern gentlemen who are attacking us, it falls on my ear as it would do if a band of robbers had surrounded a dwelling, and when the inmates attempted to resist, the assailants should raise the cry of peace, union, harmony!" He gave out the threat, that unless the slave-holders were allowed to extend their system over the virgin soil of our Territories, they would block the wheels of Government, and involve the nation in the horrors of civil war. He charged that the free States "keep up and foster in the bosoms Abolition Societies, whose main purpose is to scatter fire-brands throughout the South, to incite servile insurrections, and stimulate by licentious pictures our negroes to invade the persons of our white women." Mr. Brown, of Mississippi, said he regarded slavery "as a great moral, social and religious blessing,—a blessing to the slave, and a blessing to the master." He graciously admitted that Northern people thought slavery an evil; but he added, "Very well, think so; but keep your thoughts to yourselves." Jefferson Davis, then as ever afterward, the apostle of disunion, declared that "slavery existed in the tents of the patriarchs, and in the households of His own chosen people"; that "it was established by the decree of Almighty God," and "sanctioned in the Bible—in both Testaments—from Genesis to Revelations." Southern members pointed to the battle-fields of the Revolution, and warned the people of the free States to beware; while the menace was uttered that if the representatives of the Northern States should vote California into the Union as a free State, without some compensating measures to the South, their numbers would be decimated by violence. Mr. Toombs, in referring to the exclusion of slavery from the common territory, said "I will then, if I can, bring my children and my constituents to the altar of liberty, and like Hamilcar, I will swear them to eternal hostility to your foul domination." On January 29th, Mr. Clay introduced his eight resolutions of compromise, which still further weakened the anti-slavery policy of Northern Whigs; and when, on February 4th, another vote was taken on the Wilmot proviso, it was laid on the table by yeas 104, noes 75;—showing a majority of 29, and a change of 47 votes in a little more than one month! Thus began the sickening career of political apostacy, which so gathered momentum during the spring and summer months that it became impossible to admit the free State of California into the Union until the passage of the Texas Boundary Bill and the new Fugitive Slave Act had been made certain.
Early in the session I called on President Taylor with Mr. Giddings and Judge Allen. I had a very strong curiosity to see the man whose name I had used so freely in two exasperating political campaigns, and desired to stand corrected in my estimate of his character, if I should find such correction to be demanded by the truth. Our interview with the old soldier was exceedingly interesting and amusing. I decidedly liked his kindly, honest, farmer-like face, and his old-fashioned simplicity of dress and manners. His conversation was awkward and labored, and evinced a lack of self- possession; while his whole demeanor suggested his frontier life, and that he had reached a position for which he was singularly unfitted by training and experience, or any natural aptitude. In the few remarks he addressed to me about farming in the West, he greatly amused us by saying, "I would like to visit Indiana, and see your plows, hoes—and other reaping implements"; failing, as he often did, to find the word he wanted. He frequently mispronounced his words, hesitated and stammered, and sometimes made a breakdown in the middle of a sentence. But although he seemed to be in the hands of the slave-holders, and was about to proclaim his policy of non-intervention with slavery in the Territories, he impressed me as being personally honest and patriotic. In this impression I was fully confirmed later in the session, when he sorrowfully but manfully resisted the attempt of Senator Davis, his son-in-law, and other extreme men, to bully him into their measures, and avowed his sympathy with the anti-slavery sentiment of the country. I believe his dying words in July, "I have tried to do my duty," were the key-note of his life, and that in the Presidential campaign of 1848, I did him much, though unintentional, injustice.
It was about the same time that I called with other Western members to see Mr. Clay, at the National Hotel. He received us with the most gracious cordiality, and perfectly captivated us all by the peculiar and proverbial charm of his manners and conversation. I remember nothing like it in the social intercourse of my life. One of our party was Hon. L. D. Campbell, then a prominent Whig politician of Ohio, and an old friend of Mr. Clay, who seemed anxious to explain his action in supporting Gen. Scott in the National Convention of 1848. He failed to satisfy Mr. Clay, whose eye kindled during the conversation, and who had desired and counted on the nomination himself. Mr. Clay, addressing him, but turning to me, said: "I can readily understand the position of our friend from Indiana, whose strong opinions on the slavery question governed his action; but your position was different, and, besides, General Scott had no chance for the nomination, and you were under no obligation to support him." He spoke in kindly terms of the Free Soil men; said they acted consistently in supporting Van Buren in preference to Taylor, and that the election of the latter would prove the ruin of the Whigs. I heard Mr. Clay's great speech in the Senate on the Compromise Measures, and although I believed him to be radically wrong, I felt myself at times drawn toward him by that peculiar spell which years before had bound me to him as my idolized political leader. I witnessed his principal encounters with Col. Benton during this session, in which I thought the latter had the better of the argument; but his reply to Mr. Barnwell, of South Carolina, on July 22d, in which he said: "I owe a paramount allegiance to the whole Union, a subordinate one to my State," and denounced the treasonable utterances of Mr. Rhett, was altogether inimitable and unsurpassed. In the same speech he showed as little quarter to the Abolitionists. Turning to Mr. Hale, he said, "They live by agitation. It is their meat, their bread, the air which they breathe; and if they saw in its incipient state, a measure giving them more of that food, and meat, and bread, and air, do you believe they would oppose themselves to its adoption? Do you not believe that they would hail [Hale] it as a blessing? * * * They see their doom as certain as there is a God in heaven, who sends his providential dispensations to calm the threatening storm, and to tranquilize agitated men. As certain as God exists in heaven, your business, your vocation, is gone." His devotion to the Union was his ruling passion, and in one of his numerous speeches during this session he held up a fragment of Washington's coffin, and with much dramatic effect pleaded for reconciliation and peace between the warring sections.
His scheme of compromise, or "omnibus bill," was the darling child of his political ambition and old age; and when, after lovingly nursing it and gallantly fighting for it through seven or eight weary months, he saw it cruelly dismembered on July 31st, and his sovereign remedy for our national troubles insulted by the separate passage of the bill providing a Territorial Government for Utah, I could not help feeling a profound personal sympathy with him. Beaten at last on every point, deserted by some senators in whom he had trusted implicitly, crushed and exhausted by labors which few young and vigorous men could have endured, he bowed to the inevitable, and retired from the Senate Chamber. But in the next morning, prior to his departure for the sea-shore, he was in his seat; and with lightning in his eye, and figure erect as ever, he paid his respects to the men whose work of political havoc he deplored. His impassioned arraignment of the disunionists was loudly applauded by the galleries, and clearly indicated the part he would have played in the late Rebellion had his life been spared to witness that direful event. "So long," said he, "as it pleases God to give me a voice to express my sentiments, or an arm, weak and enfeebled as it may be by age, that voice and that arm will be on the side of my country, for the support of the general authority, and for the maintenance of the powers of this Union."
I heard the famous "Seventh of March Speech" of Mr. Webster. To me his oratory was a perfect surprise and curiosity. He not only spoke with very unusual deliberation, but with pauses having no relation whatever to the sense. His sentences were broken into the oddest fragments, and the hearer was perplexed in the endeavor to gather his meaning. In declaring, for example, that he "would put in no Wilmot proviso for the purpose of a taunt," etc., he made a long pause at "Wilmot," perhaps half a minute, and finally, having apparently recovered his breath, added the word "proviso"; and then, after another considerable pause, went on with his sentence. His speaking seemed painfully laborious. Great drops of perspiration stood upon his forehead and face, notwithstanding the slowness of his utterance, suggesting, as a possible explanation, a very recent and heavy dinner, or a greatly troubled conscience over his final act of apostasy from his early New England faith. The latter was probably the truth, since he is known to have long and seriously pondered the question of his ultimate decision; and with his naturally great and noble traits of character he could not have announced it without manifest tokens of uneasiness. I was greatly interested in the brief dialogue between him and Mr. Calhoun, which followed this speech. Reference was made to their famous passage- at-arms twenty years before; and Mr. Calhoun, while taking exception to some of Mr. Webster's positions, congratulated him on his strong deliverance in the interest of slavery. The great Carolinian was then wrestling with the disease which soon afterward terminated his life, and was thin, pale, and feeble of step; but his singularly intellectual face, and the peculiar light which flashed from his eye while speaking, made him the most strikingly picturesque figure in the Senate. No man can compute the evils wrought by his political theories; but in private life he was thoroughly upright and pure, and no suspicion of political jobbery was ever whispered in connection with his name. In his social relations he was most genial and kindly, while he always welcomed the society of young men who sought the aid of his friendly counsel. Politically, he has been singularly misunderstood. He was not, as has been so generally thought, a disunionist. He was the champion of State Sovereignty, but he believed that this was the sure basis and bond of Union. He thought the right of State nullification, if recognized, would hold the central power in check, and thus cement the Union; while his devotion to African slavery as a defensible form of society, and a solution of the conflict between capital and labor, was doubtless as sincere as it was fanciful.
During the first months of this session my spare time was devoted to the preparation of a speech on the slavery question. My constituents expected this, and so did my anti-slavery and Free Soil friends generally. It was my darling purpose, and I resolved to do my best upon it. I not only meant that they should not be ashamed of it, but that, if possible, it should stand the test of criticism, both as to matter and diction. I re-examined the question in its various aspects, and more thoroughly than I had been able to do before, giving special attention to the speeches of Southern members in both Houses, and carefully noting their vulnerable points. I overhauled the question of "Northern aggression" pretty thoroughly, and endeavored to expose the absurdity of that complaint, while crowding into my task such facts and arguments as would help educate the people in right thinking. I had my task completed in March, and now anxiously waited the opportunity for its delivery. I was very curious to know how it would sound, and what would be thought of it, while my constitutional self-distrust made me dread the experiment unspeakably. My scuffle for the floor was a sore trial of patience, and it was not until the fourteenth of May that the competitive contest was ended. I got through with the work better than I anticipated, was handsomely listened to, and went home in triumph. A great burden of anxiety had been lifted, while I received letters from the leading Abolitionists of New England and elsewhere, very cordially complimenting the speech, which was copied into the principal anti-slavery newspapers, and quite favorably noticed. I was flattered beyond measure, and found my self-esteem germinating into new life under these fertilizing dews.
CHAPTER V. REMINISCENCES OF THE THIRTY-FIRST CONGRESS (CONTINUED). Fracas between Col. Benton and Senator Foote—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—Slave-holding 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 and other notable men—John P. Hale—Thaddeus Stevens—Extracts from speeches—The famous men in both Houses—The Free Soilers and their vindication.
I happened to be in the Senate on April 17th, just before the memorable fracas between Foote, of Mississippi, and Col. Benton. They had had an unfriendly encounter not long before, and it was well understood that Benton had made up his mind that Foote should not henceforward name him or allude to him in debate. Foote had said: "I do not denounce him as a coward—such language is unfitted for this audience—but if he wishes to be blackguarded in the discharge of his duty, and the culprit go unpunished? Is language to be used here which would not be permitted to be used in the lowest pot-house, tavern, or oyster cellar, and for the use of which he would be turned out of any tavern by a decent landlord?" Benton's wrath had not in the least cooled since this altercation. Foote was on the floor, and in speaking of the late "Southern address," referred to Benton in terms which everybody understood. In an indirect way he became more and more personal as he proceeded. Col. Benton finally arose from his seat with every appearance of intense passion, and with a quick pace moved toward Foote, who was addressing the Senate from his desk near the main aisle. The Vice President demanded "order," and several senators tried to hold Benton back, but he broke loose from his keepers, and was moving rapidly upon his foe. When he saw Benton nearing him, Foote sprang into the main aisle, and retreated toward the Vice President, presenting a pistol as he fled, or, as he afterward expressed it, "advanced backward." In the meantime Benton had been so obstructed by the sergeant-at-arms and others that Foote, if disposed to shoot, could not have done so without firing through the crowd. But Benton, with several senators hanging to him, now proceeded round the lobby so as to meet Foote at the opposite side of the Chamber. Tearing himself away from those who sought to hold him, and throwing open his bosom, he said: "Let him shoot me! The cowardly assassin has come here to shoot me; let him shoot me if he dares! I never carry arms, and he knows it; let the assassin fire!" He was an embodied fury, and raged and raved, the helpless victim of his passions. I had never seen such an uproar in a legislative body; but the sergeant-at-arms at last restored order, when Mr. Clay suggested that both parties should voluntarily enter into bonds to keep the peace, upon which Benton instantly rose and said: "I'll rot in jail, sir, before I will do it! No, sir! I'll rot in jail first. I'll rot, sir!" and he poured forth a fresh torrent of bitter words upon the man who was then so well known throughout the Northern States as "Hangman Foote."* Benton was not only a man of tremendous passion, but unrivalled as a hater. Nor did his hatred spend itself entirely upon injustice and meanness. It was largely personal and unreasoning. He was pre-eminently unforgiving. He hated Calhoun with a real vengeance, styling him "John Cataline Calhoun," and branding him as a "coward cur that sneaked to his kennel when the Master of the Hermitage blew his bugle horn." He seemed to relent a little, however, when he saw the life of the great Carolinian rapidly ebbing away, and on one occasion declared that, "When God lays his hand on a man, I take mine off." His wit was sometimes as pungent as his invective. In his famous speech on the Compromise measures, he gave Mr. Clay a telling hit by comparing the boasted panacea of his "Omnibus Bill," or "five old bills tacked together," to "old Dr. Jacob Townsend's sarsaparilla," and contrasting it with the alleged worthlessness of the same measures when separately proposed, which he likened to "young Dr. Samuel Townsend's" extract from the same vegetable. "Sarsaparilla" was thus more widely advertised than ever before, but it aided the triumph of the "young Dr.," and the defeat of Mr. Clay's pet scheme.
[* So named because of his declaration in the Senate the year before, that if John P. Hale would come to Mississippi he would be hung to "one of the tallest trees of the forest," and that he (Foote) would himself "assist in the operation."]
The sudden death of Gen. Taylor, July 9, 1850, produced a very profound impression. The shock to the people of the Northern States was felt the more keenly because of the peculiarly threatening aspect of public affairs, and of the unexpectedly manly course of the President in withstanding the imperious and insolent demands of the extreme men of his own section. Millard Fillmore then stood well before the country, and was quite as emphatically committed to the growing anti-slavery sentiment of the Free States as Gov. Seward himself; but he was now to be severely tried, and no one could tell whether he would be true to the policy of his predecessor in resisting the ultra demands of the South, or repeat the perfidy of John Tyler by flagrantly turning his back on his past life. For the time, however, the national bereavement seemed too absorbing for any political speculations. The funeral pageant, which took place on the 13th, was very imposing. The funeral car was a long- coupled running gear, with wheels carved from solid blocks of wood. Over this was raised a canopy covered with broadcloth, and surmounted by a magnificent eagle. Curtains of black and white silk in alternating festoons hung from the canopy, with rosettes, fringes, and tassels. The car was drawn by eight white horses, richly caparisoned, and led by as many grooms, who were all white men. "Old Whitey," the venerable war steed of the President, followed immediately behind the remains of his master, and attracted universal attention. The procession was accompanied by the tolling of bells, the firing of heavy ordnance, and plaintive strains of music; and the whole affair exceeded anything of the kind that had ever taken place in Washington, although the outpouring of the people would bear no comparison with that of several notable funerals of later years.
The dreadful heat of the summer months, and the monotonous "ding- dong" of the debate on the Compromise measures, made life dreary enough. The "rump-session," as it was then called, became more and more dismal as it dragged its slow length into the fall months. Members grew pale and thin, and sighed for their homes; but the Congressional mill had to be kept running till the grists of the slave-power could be got fully ready for the hopper, and ground in their regular order. Mr. Clay's Omnibus Bill having gone to pieces, the "five gaping wounds" of the country, about which he had talked so eloquently, called for treatment in detail; and by far the most threatening of these was the dispute between Texas and New Mexico. The remedy was the Texas Boundary Bill, which surrendered a large belt of country to Texas and slavery, and gave her ten million dollars besides. It was vehemently opposed in the House, and its fate seemed to hang in doubt up to the final vote upon it; but its passage was really assured from the beginning by the corrupt appliances of its friends. Texas bonds, which were then worth ten cents on the dollar, would be lifted nearly to par by this measure, and its success was undoubtedly secured by the bribery of members. The territorial question was disposed of by the legislative covenant that new States might be admitted from our Mexican acquisitions, either with or without slavery, as their people might determine. This was not only an open abandonment of the Wilmot proviso, but a legislative condemnation of the Missouri compromise line, as a violation of the principle of "popular sovereignty," and was sure to breed the mischiefs which followed four years later. But of the several compromise or "healing measures" of this session, the Fugitive Slave Bill was by far the most atrocious. It made the ex parte interested oath of the slave-hunter final and conclusive evidence of the fact of escape, and of the identity of the party pursued, while the simplest duties of humanity were punished as felonies by fine and imprisonment. The method of its enactment perfectly accorded with its character. It was reached on the Speaker's table on September 12th, and on motion of Mr. Thompson, of Pennsylvania, who served as the parliamentary hangman of his employers, the previous question was seconded on its passage; and thus, without reference to any committee, without even being printed, and with no opportunity whatever for debate, it became a law. It is needless to say that these pretended measures of final adjustment paved the way for the repeal of the Missouri restriction, the bloody raid into Kansas, the Dred Scott decision, and the final chapter of the Civil War; while they completely vindicated the little party of Independents in this Congress in standing aloof from the Whig and Democratic organizations, and warning the country against further submission to their rule. One hundred guns were fired in Washington over the final triumph of slavery in this memorable struggle; and Congress adjourned, at last, on September 30th, the session having lasted nearly ten months, and being considerably the longest thus far since the formation of the Government.
The adjournment was followed by great "Union-saving" meetings throughout the country, which denounced "abolitionism" in the severest terms, and endorsed the action of Congress. Multitudes of "lower law" sermons by conservative Doctors of Divinity were scattered over the Northern States through the mails, and a regular system of agitation to suppress agitation was inaugurated. The sickly air of compromise filled the land, and for a time the deluded masses were made to believe that the Free Soilers had brought the country to the verge of ruin. Both clergy and laity zealously dedicated themselves to the great work of sectional pacification. The labors of Dr. Nehemiah Adams and Dr. Lord in this direction will not be forgotten. The Rev. Moses Stuart, of Andover Theological Seminary, in a work in the interest of peace, spoke of the "blessings and comforts" of slavery, and declared that "Christ doubtless felt that slavery might be made a very tolerable condition—aye, even a blessing, to such as were shiftless and helpless." Another book, entitled "Aunt Phillis's Cabin; or Southern Life as it is," was issued from the press, in which it was said that slavery was "authorized by God, permitted by Jesus Christ, sanctioned by the Apostles, and maintained by good men in all ages." A very remarkable book made its appearance, entitled "A Choice of Evils; or Thirteen Years in the South. By a Northern man." Its author was a Mr. Hooker, of Philadelphia. In this work he announced the discovery that slavery is not only an unspeakable blessing, but a great "missionary institution for the conversion of the heathen." One of the chapters of this book is on "The Pleasures of Slavery." He declared that the Southern slave is not merely contented, but a "joyous fellow"; and that "in willing and faithful subjection to a benignant and protecting power, and that visible to his senses, he leans upon it in complete and sure confidence, as a trusting child holds on to the hand of his Father, and passes joyously along the thronged and jostling way, where he would not dare to be left alone." Mr. Hooker declared that "his are the thoughts that make glad the cared-for child, led by paternal hand"; and that "of all the people in the world, the pleasures of the Southern slaves seem, as they really are, most unalloyed." The press teemed with kindred publications, while "Graham's Magazine," Harper's "Journal of Civilization," the "Literary World," "Godey's Ladies' Book," and other periodicals, joined in the united effort to shout the anti- slavery agitation into silence.
During this session some laws were passed having no connection with the slavery question, which were pregnant with very great mischief, and have only yielded up their meaning as they have been practically applied and extended. The act of September 28th, granting land bounties to the soldiers of the Mexican war, opened the way for the monopoly of many millions of acres of the public domain by sharks and speculators, while proving a wretched mockery of the just claims of the men in whose name it was urged. The Swamp Land Act of the same date, owing to its loose and unguarded provisions and shameful mal-administration, has been still more fruitful of wide-spread spoilation and plunder. The act of September 20th, granting alternate sections of land in aid of the Illinois Central Railway, inaugurated our famous land-grant policy, which, becoming more and more reckless and improvident in its exactions, and cunningly combining the power of great corporations with vast monopolies of the public domain, has signally eclipsed all other schemes of commercial feudalism, and left to coming generations a problem involving the very life of our popular institutions. The fruits of this legislation were not foreseen at the time, but the legislation itself fitly belongs to the extraordinary work of this Congress.
The events of this session formed a new band of union among anti- slavery men everywhere, and naturally strengthened the wish I had long cherished to meet some of the famous people with whose names I had been most familiar. Accordingly, I paid a visit to James and Lucretia Mott in Philadelphia, which I greatly enjoyed, meeting there Dr. Elder, J. Miller McKim, Dr. Furness, and other well known friends of freedom. Oddly enough, I was invited to dine with Judge Kane, then conspicuous through his remarkable rulings in fugitive slave cases, and I found his manners and hospitality as charming as his opinions about slavery were detestable. From Philadelphia I went to Boston, and attended the Free Soil State Convention which met there early in October, 1850, where Sumner and Burlingame were the principal speakers. The latter was extremely boyish in appearance, but was counted a marvel in native eloquence. Mr. Sumner was then comparatively a young man, apparently somewhat fastidious, with a winning face, commanding figure, and a voice singularly musical. At this time he was only famous through his orations, and I think knew relatively little of American life and society outside of Boston and his books. He told me he had recently been lecturing at several points out of the city, and had been delighted to find the people so intelligent and so capable of understanding him. He seemed much surprised when I told him how many admirers he had in Indiana, and I found that others shared his unflattering impressions respecting the general intelligence of the West. At this convention I met Dr. Palfrey, then actively interested in anti-slavery politics, and Charles Francis Adams, the Free Soil nominee for Vice President in 1848, with whom I dined at the old Adams mansion in Quincy a few days later. I enjoyed the honor of a call from Theodore Parker while in the city, but failed to meet Mr. Garrison, who was absent. At the "Liberator" office, however, I met Stephen S. Foster, who entertained me with his views on "non-resistance." I attended a spirited anti-fugitive- slave-law meeting in Lynn, where I first met Wendell Phillips, and enjoyed the long-coveted pleasure of hearing him speak. The music of his voice so charmed me that I became completely his captive. From Boston I went to Worcester, and after a delightful visit with my excellent friend, Judge Allen, returned to my home in the West.
After a vacation of two months, the work of the Thirty-first Congress was resumed at the opening of its second session. Members returned so refreshed and invigorated that they did not appear like the same men. All parties seemed more friendly, but the agitation of the slavery question had not been suppressed. Thousands of fugitive slaves had fled to Canada or to remote sections of the Northern States, through the fear of recapture under the harsh features of the new Fugitive Slave Act. The method of enforcing it in different States, involving the intervention of the army and navy, had stirred the blood of thousands who had else remained unmoved by the slavery issue. The effort of the National Government to make the harboring of a fugitive constructive treason, was the farthest thing possible from a peace-offering to the Abolitionists, but the friends of the Compromise measures failed to see that their scheme had proved entirely abortive, and made one further effort to silence the voice of humanity. They entered into a solemn compact in writing to support no man for President or Vice President of the United States, or for senator or representative in Congress, or member of a State legislature, who was not known to be opposed to disturbing their "final settlement" of the slavery question. The signature of Henry Clay was the first on this document, and was followed by those of various prominent men of the free and slave States, and of different political parties. But the extreme men of the South and most of the moderate men of the North refused to assume this obligation, while the Free Soilers felt perfectly sure that their cause would be advanced by the very measures which had been taken to defeat it. In this they were not mistaken. "Uncle Tom's Cabin," born of the Fugitive Slave Act, was then making its first appearance in weekly numbers of Dr. Bailey's "National Era." Hildreth's "White Slave" and Sumner's "White Slavery in the Barbary States" were widely circulated, and exerted a powerful influence. The writings of Judge Jay and William Goodell on the slavery question found more readers than ever before, while the pro-slavery literature and "south side" theology, already referred to, called forth replies from various writers, and contributed largely to the general ferment which the friends of the Compromise measures were so anxious to tranquilize. Indeed, while the champions of slavery were exerting themselves as never before to stifle the anti-slavery spirit of the free States, the Abolitionists were delighted with the tokens of progress which everywhere saluted their vision and animated them with new courage and hope.
It was early in the first session of this Congress that several members of the House introduced bills providing homesteads of one hundred and sixty acres each to actual landless settlers, without cost, on prescribed conditions of occupancy and improvement. The first of these bills in the order of time was that of Andrew Johnson, which was referred to the Committee on Agriculture, and subsequently reported favorably, and debated at different times. Similar propositions were offered in the Senate by Mr. Webster, and by Senator Walker, of Wisconsin. The fact is also worthy of note, that Horace Greeley, during his short term of service in the previous Congress, had offered a bill giving landless men the right to pre- empt one hundred and sixty acres for seven years, and, on condition of occupancy and improvement, the "right of unlimited occupancy" to forty acres of the same, without price, by a single man, or eighty acres by the married head of a family. But the legislative initiation of the Homestead law, substantially as we now have it, belongs to the House of Representatives of the Thirty-first Congress, and its policy was borrowed from the Free Soil platform of 1848 and the Land Reformers of New York. This measure completely reversed the early policy of the Government, when settlers on the public lands were dealt with as trespassers, while its triumph, years afterward, marked an epoch in our legislation, and has done more to make the American name honored and loved at home and abroad than any single enactment since the year 1789. Having earnestly espoused this policy years before, I sought the acquaintance of Mr. Johnson for the purpose of co-operating with him in urging it, and found him its sincere friend. Although loyal to his party, he seemed to have little sympathy with the extreme men among its leaders, and no unfriendliness to me on account of my decided anti-slavery opinions. When my homestead speech was ready for delivery, although the slave-holders hated its doctrines as heartily as they hated "abolitionism" itself, and it was through his friendly tactics that I finally obtained the floor, in opposition to the earnest wish and determined purpose of Speaker Cobb.
Near the close of this session, at the instance of Charles Allen, of Massachusetts, a man of real ability and stainless life, a preamble and resolutions were offered by myself calling for a committee to inquire into the alleged corrupt conduct of Daniel Webster in accepting the office of Secretary of State as the stipendary of Eastern capitalists. On the motion to suspend the rules to allow this to be done, the yeas were only thirty-five; but this vote was quite as large as could have been expected, considering the excellent standing of Mr. Webster at that time with the pro-slavery sentiment of the country. I think it is not doubted that, being then poor, he accepted office, as he had done before, on condition of pecuniary indemnity by his rich friends in Wall street and State street; but in the light of the far greater immoralities and profligacies of later times, it now seems a relatively small matter.
Political morality was at a very low ebb during the period covered by the Thirty-first Congress. The Whigs, now that they were in power, saw nothing amiss in the spoils system inaugurated by Gen. Jackson, which was in full blast. The President had declared that he had "no friends to reward and no enemies to punish," but under the party pressure he totally lost sight of these words, and seemed almost as powerless to withstand it as did Gen. Grant in later years. Thousands of officials were turned adrift for no other than party reasons, while political nepotism was the order of the day. Under the brief administration of Gen. Taylor, unprecedented political jobbery prevailed, both in the legislative and executive departments of the Government, and these evils seemed to be aggravated by the accession of Mr. Fillmore, and to gather strength as the spirit of liberty declined. Nor was the personal morality of members more to be commended than their political. The vice of intemperance was not, as now, restricted to a few exceptional cases, but was fearfully prevalent. A glass of wine could sometimes be seen on the desk of a senator while engaged in debate, and the free use of intoxicating drinks by senators was too common to provoke remark. It was still more common in the House; and the scenes of drunkenness and disorder in that body on the last night of the last session beggared description. Much of the most important legislation of the session, involving the expenditure of many millions, remained to be disposed of at that sitting; and, as a preparation for the work, a large supply of whisky had been deposited in a room immediately connected with the Hall of Representatives, which was thronged by members at all hours of the night. The chairman of the Ways and Means Committee became so exhilarated that he had to be retired from his post; and some of his brethren, who had been calling him to order in a most disorderly manner, were quite as incapable of business as himself, while order had sought her worshipers elsewhere. The exhibition was most humiliating, but it now pleasantly reminds us of the wonderful changes which have been wrought by thirty years.
In this Congress, the men who afterward became the chief leaders of the Rebellion were conspicuous, and foreshadowed their future course. Jefferson Davis had a military and magisterial look. His estimate of himself was so exalted that his ordinary demeanor toward others seemed like a personal condescension, if not an insinuation of contempt. One of the most striking personalities in the Senate was A. P. Butler, the colleague of Mr. Calhoun, and uncle of Preston S. Brooks, of infamous memory. His robust physique, florid complexion, sparkling eye, heavy bushy suit of snow-white hair, and a certain indefinable expression of mischievous audacity, made him a very attractive figure. In his eulogy upon Calhoun he marred the solemnity of the occasion by pronouncing the world "always" as if written "allers," and by kindred evidences of "life among the lowly." The wit of John P. Hale was effective and unfailing, and gave him a decided advantage over Mr. Chase, who had nothing but his dignity and power of argument with which to confront the tremendous odds against him. This was happily illustrated early in the first session of this Congress, in his reply to Mr. Clemens, of Alabama, who, in a furious tirade against the Abolitionists, had pronounced the Union dissolved already. "There are many timid people at the North," said Hale, "who have looked forward with excited nerves and trembling fears at the 'wreck of matter and the crush of worlds' which they believed would be the result of the dissolution of this Union. I think they will be exceedingly quiet now, when they find it has already taken place and they did not know it, for the honorable senator from Alabama tells us it is already dissolved. If it is not a matter too serious for pleasant illustration, let me give you one. Once in my life, in the capacity of a justice of the peace—for I held that office before I was a senator—I was called on to officiate in uniting a couple in the bonds of matrimony. They came up, and I made short work of it. I asked the man if he would take the woman whom he held by the hand to be his wedded wife; he replied, 'To be sure I will, I came here to do that very thing.' I then put the question to the lady, whether she would have the man for her husband. And when she answered in the affirmative, I told them they were man and wife. She looked up with apparent astonishment, and inquired 'Is that all?' 'Yes,' I said, 'that is all.' 'Well,' said she, 'it is not such a mighty affair as I expected it to be, after all.'"
Some of the finest of Mr. Seward's speeches were delivered during the first session of this Congress, but in the same husky voice which marked his later efforts. Decidedly the finest looking man in the Senate was General Shields, of Illinois, then in his prime, and crowned with the laurels he had won in the Mexican War. The appearance of Mr. Douglas, familiarly known as the "little giant," was in striking contrast with that of his colleague. He cared nothing about dignity and refinement, and had a slovenly and "unwashed" appearance. The towering and erect form of General Houston always commanded attention in the Senate, and he added to his attractiveness by wearing an old-fashioned knit cap, and always devoting a portion of his time to whittling a pine board. The most fascinating member of the Senate was Soule, of Louisiana. There was a tropical charm about his oratory, which was heightened by his foreign accent and his singularly striking presence and physiognomy. Winthrop was the most accomplished gentleman in the House. Edward D. Baker, since so famous, was a member from Illinois, but made no mark. Stephens, of Georgia, looked like a corpse, but his clear and ringing voice always commanded attention, and his words went directly to the mark. Toombs was recognized as a leader of Southern opinion, but disfigured his speeches by his swagger and defiance. Among the notable men from the Northern States, Hannibal Hamlin, lately retired from public life, was in the Senate. He was then a young man, erect, fine looking, a thorough Democrat, but not the tool of slavery. Thaddeus Stevens was in the House, and just at the beginning of his remarkable congressional life; but the slave power, then in full sweep of its despotism, took good care to keep him in the background in the organization of the committees. He made several speeches, in which he displayed his rare powers of invective, irony, and sarcasm, in dealing with the Southern leaders; and no one who listened to his speech of Feb. 20, 1850, could ever forget his withering reply to Mr. Mead, of Virginia, who had argued against the prohibition of slavery in the Territories because it would conflict with the interests of Virginia as a breeder of slaves. I quote the following:
"Let us pause for a moment over this humiliating confession. In plain English, what does it mean? That Virginia is now only fit to be the breeder, not the employer, of slaves! That she is reduced to the condition that her proud chivalry are compelled to turn slave-traders for a livelihood! Instead of attempting to renovate the soil, and by their own honest labor compelling the earth to yield her abundance; instead of seeking for the best breed of cattle and horses to feed on her hills and valleys, and fertilize the land, the sons of that great State must devote their time to selecting and grooming the most lusty sires and the most fruitful wenches, to supply the slave barracoons of the South! And the learned gentleman pathetically laments that the profits of this genteel traffic will be greatly lessened by the circumscription of slavery! This is his picture, not mine."
Mr. Stevens was equally merciless in dealing with the tribe of "dough-faces." This was illustrated in a speech later in the session, in which he alluded to his colleague from Bucks County, Mr. Ross, who had attacked him in a violent pro-slavery harangue:
"There is," said Mr. Stevens, "in the natural world, a little, spotted, contemptible animal, which is armed by nature with a fetid, volatile, penetrating virus, which so pollutes whoever attacks it as to make him offensive to himself and all around him for a long time. Indeed, he is almost incapable of purification. Nothing, sir, no insult, shall provoke me to crush so filthy a beast." As these words were being uttered, Mr. Ross was seen precipitately making his way out of the hall under the return fire of his foe. But Mr. Stevens then gave no clear promise of the wonderful career as a parliamentary leader which awaited him in later years, when perfectly unshackled by the power that at first held him in check.
The Thirty-first Congress was not alone remarkable for the great questions it confronted and its shameless recreancy to humanity and justice; it was equally remarkable for its able and eminent men. In the Senate, the great triumvirate of Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, appeared in public life for the last time. With them were associated Benton, Cass, Douglas, Seward, Chase, Bell, Berrien, Soule, Davis of Mississippi, Dayton, Hale, Ewing, Corwin, Hamlin, Butler, Houston, and Mason. In the House were Thaddeus Stevens, Winthrop, Ashmun, Allen, Cobb of Georgia, McDowell, Giddings, Preston King, Horace Mann, Marshall, Orr, Schenck, Stanley, Toombs, Alexander H. Stephens, and Vinton. If mere talent could have supplemented the lack of conscience, the slave power might have been overborne in 1850, and the current of American history turned into the channels of liberty and peace. But the better days of the Republic, when high integrity and unselfish devotion to the country inspired our statesmen, were past, and we had entered upon the era of mean ambitions and huckstering politics. "The bulk of the nation," as Harriet Martineau said, a little later, "was below its institutions," and our fathers "had laid down a loftier program than their successors were able to fulfill." It was not strange, therefore, that the little band of Free Soilers in this Congress encountered popular obloquy and social outlawry at the Capital. Their position was offensive, because it rebuked the ruling influences of the times, and summoned the real manhood of the country to its rescue. They were treated as pestilent fanatics because they bravely held up the ideal of the Republic, and sought to make it real. But they pressed forward along the path of their aspirations. They found a solace for their social ostracism in delightful gatherings which assembled weekly at the residence of Dr. Bailey, where they met philanthropists, reformers, and literary notables. They had the courage of their opinions, and the genuine satisfaction which accompanies manliness of character; and they lived to see their principles vindicated, and the political and social tables turned upon the men who had honored them by their scorn and contempt. The anti-slavery revolt of 1848, which they represented, saved Oregon from slavery, made California a free State, and launched the policy of free homes on the public domain which finally prevailed in 1862; and it was the prophecy and parent of the larger movement which rallied under Fremont in 1856, elected Lincoln in 1860, and played its grand part in saving the nation from destruction by the armed insurgents whom it had vanquished at the ballot-box. This will be the sure award of history; but history will find another parentage for the party despotism and political corruption which have since disgraced the administration of the Government.
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.
The reaction which followed the passage of the compromise acts of 1850 was quite as remarkable as the anti-slavery revolt of 1848, which frightened the champions of slavery into the espousal of these desperate measures. Immense meetings were held in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and other cities and towns throughout the country, in which leading Whigs and Democrats united in pledging themselves to make the suppression of abolitionism paramount to any question of party allegiance. These demonstrations were vigorously seconded by leading clergymen and doctors of divinity, whose sermons were plentifully scattered over the land under the frank of members of Congress and otherwise. The press put forth its whole power on the side of anti-slavery submission and peace, while the Executive and Judicial departments of the Government made haste to abase themselves by their super-serviceable zeal in the enforcement of the new Fugitive Slave law. The tables seemed to be completely turned, and the time-honored rule of our slave-masters impregnably re-established. The anti-slavery commotion which a little while before had rocked the country from one end of the Union to the other was hushed in the restored order which succeeded, and gave promise of that longed-for "finality" for which the two great parties had so ardently labored.
In no section of the non-slaveholding States was this reaction more strikingly felt than in the West, and especially in Illinois and Indiana. These States were outlying provinces of the empire of slavery. Their black codes and large Southern population bore witness to their perfect loyalty to slave-holding traditions. Indiana, while a Territory, had repeatedly sought the introduction of slavery into her borders. Her black laws had disfigured her legislation from the beginning, and in 1850 were made still blacker by her new Constitution, the 13th article of which, forbidding negroes from coming into the State and white men from encouraging them to remain, was submitted to the people separately, and ratified by a popular majority of nearly ninety thousand votes. Ten years before, in the Harrison campaign, Mr. Bigger, the Whig candidate for Governor, made himself very popular by proving that Van Buren had favored negro suffrage in New York. In 1842, four of the Indiana delegation in Congress—namely, Lane, Wallace, Thompson, and Kennedy—voted for the censure of Mr. Giddings, which Mr. Clay indignantly denounced at the time, and two only—namely, White and Cravens—voted in the negative. Although the execution of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was a matter of Federal cognizance exclusively, yet the State code made the harboring of a fugitive an offense against its peace and dignity, punishable by fine and imprisonment. The colored people were denied any share in the school fund, but were taxed for its support; and under the law forbidding them to testify in cases where white men were parties, they were at the mercy of any white villain who might take the precaution of perpetrate an outrage upon them in the absence of white witnesses. Of course, the organization of an anti-slavery party strong enough to rule such States as these, was to be the work of time, toil, and patience. It was only possible to lay the foundation, and build as the material could be commanded; but the Free Soilers, whether in the east or in the West, were undismayed by the crisis, and fully resolved upon keeping up the fight. In compliance with the wishes of my anti-slavery friends, and by way of doing my part in the work, I decided to stand for a re-election from the Fourth Indiana District in the spring of 1851. The Wilmot proviso Democrats who had been chosen with me two years before on the strength of their Free Soil pledges, including such men as Joseph E. McDonald and Graham N. Fitch, now stood squarely on the Compromise measures.
The Whigs of the State, following the lead of Webster and Clay, and including Edward W. McGaughey, their only delegate in Congress, had also completely changed their base. My competitor, Samuel W. Parker, whom I had defeated two years before, and who had then insisted that the Whigs were better anti-slavery men than the Free Soilers themselves, now made a complete somersault, fully committing himself to the Compromise acts, and especially the Fugitive Slave law, which he declared he approved without changing the dotting of an i or the crossing of a t. Foote, Cass, and Webster were now the oracles of the Whig faith; but, oddly enough, the Democrats, who had formed by far the larger portion of my support two years before, now stood firm, and I would undoubtedly have been re-elected but for very vigorous outside interference. Wm. J. Brown, who had intrigued with the leading Free Soilers for the Speakership in 1849, as I have already shown, and favored the passage of the Wilmot proviso in order to "stick it at old Zach," was now the editor of the "Sentinel," the State organ of the Democracy, which was sufficiently orthodox on the slavery question to pass muster in South Carolina. It was this organ which afterward insisted that my abolitionism entitled me to at least five years service at hard labor in the penitentiary. Mr. Brown's dread of this fearful heresy seemed as intense as it was unbounded, and he resolved at all hazards to avert any further alliance with it by Democrats in any portion of the State. By very hard work and the most unscrupulous expedients he succeeded in enlisting a few ambitious local magnates of his party in the district, who were fully in sympathy with his spirit and aims, and of whom Oliver P. Morton was the chief; and by thus drawing away from the democracy from two to three hundred pro-slavery malcontents and turning them over to my Whig competitor, my defeat was accomplished.
But the effort to stem the tide of slavery fared better elsewhere. While Mr. Webster was publicly ridiculing the "higher law," and blurting his contempt upon one of the noted anti-slavery strongholds of the country as "a laboratory of abolitionism, libel, and treason," Massachusetts sent Charles Sumner to the Senate of the United States, and elected Horace Mann, Charles Allen and Robert Rantoul as members of the House. Amos Tuck was returned from New Hampshire, Preston King from New York, Thaddeus Stevens and John W. Howe from Pennsylvania, Charles Durkee from Wisconsin, and Giddings and Townsend from Ohio. These events were exceedingly gratifying, and lent new life to the cause throughout the Northern States. During the summer of this year Mr. Sumner moved the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act, and although it received but ten votes, it led to an angry and protracted discussion, which showed how signally the attempt to suppress anti-slavery agitation had failed. In the latter part of September of this year a Free Soil National Convention met at Cleveland, to take into consideration the state of the country and the duty of anti-slavery men. It was large and enthusiastic. It adopted a series of spirited resolutions and a timely public address, and admirable speeches were made by Cassius M. Clay, Joshua R. Giddings, Samuel Lewis, George Bradburn, and others. The only drawback to the prevailing spirit of hopefulness and courage was the absence of Mr. Chase, who had just withdrawn from the Free Soil party and united his fortunes with the Democrats of Ohio, who had adopted a platform which admitted an interpretation covering, substantially, the principles of the Free Soil creed.
As the time for another Presidential election drew near, Whigs and Democrats were alike engrossed with the consideration of their "final settlement" of the slavery question, and their attitude respecting it in the impending struggle. Among the latter there was substantially no division. Their experience in 1848 with Gen. Cass and his "Nicholson letter," had convinced them that nothing was to be gained by mincing matters, and that a hearty, complete and unhesitating surrender to slavery was the surest means of success. The Democrats in Congress, both North and South, had very generally favored this "settlement," and there was now no division in the party except as to men. The candidates were Cass, Buchanan, Douglas, and Marcy; and the National Convention assembled on the first of June. The platform of the party began with the declaration of its "trust in the intelligence, the patriotism, and the discriminating justice of the American people"; and then, in the fourth and fifth resolutions, pronounced the Fugitive Slave Act equally sacred with the Constitution, and pledged the party to "resist all attempts at renewing, in Congress or out of it, the agitation of the slavery question, under whatever shape or color the attempt may be made." So far as slavery was concerned it thus became a recognized and authoritative principle of American Democracy to muzzle the press and crush out the freedom of speech, as the means of upholding and perpetuating its power. On this platform Franklin Pierce was nominated on the forty-ninth ballot; and in his letter of acceptance he declared that "the principles it embraces command the approbation of my judgment, and with them I believe I can safely say that no word nor act of my life is in conflict." It is difficult to conceive of any words by which he could more completely have abdicated his manhood and self-respect, and sounded the knell of his own conscience. There was no lower deep, and he was evidently the right man in the right place.
The Whig National Convention assembled on the sixteenth of June, with Scott, Fillmore and Webster as the candidates. There was yet a considerable anti-slavery element in the party, but it was paralyzed and powerless. It had made a fatal mistake in submitting to the nomination of Gen. Taylor, and became still more completely demoralized by the accession of Fillmore, who turned his back upon his past life, and threw himself into the arms of the slave-holders. The old party had gone astray too long and too far to return, and now determined to seek its fortunes in the desperate effort to outdo the Democrats in cringing servility to the South. The platform of the Convention expressed the reliance of the Whigs "upon the intelligence of the American people," but in its eighth resolution declared their acquiescence in the Compromise Acts of 1850 "as a final settlement, in principle and substance, of the subjects to which they relate"; and it deprecated "all further agitation of the questions thus settled, as dangerous to our peace," and pledged the party "to discountenance all efforts to continue or renew such agitation, whenever, wherever, or however made." On this platform, which is well understood to have been the work of Mr. Webster, Gen. Scott was nominated on the fifty-ninth ballot by a vote of two hundred and twenty-seven to sixty-six, while the highest vote received by Mr. Webster was twenty-nine. Here at last, the Whig party had made a complete surrender of its integrity, and verified all that had ever been said by Free Soilers as to its treachery to freedom; and here, finally, these rival parties were tumbled together into the ditch of slavery, and wallowing in the mire of their degradation and shame. The only issue of the canvass was slavery, and on this they were perfectly agreed, while each, for the sake of the spoils of office, was trying to surpass the other in the damning proofs of its treason to humanity and contempt for the fundamental truths of republican government.
The spectacle was most pitiably humiliating, but I counted it an omen of progress. The old parties were now unequivocally committed to the policy of nationalizing the sectional interest of slavery, and the way thus opened for a fair fight. The lines were clearly drawn, and the issue unmistakably made between freedom and free speech on the one side, and slavery and the gag on the other. I thought we should have no more anti-slavery professions from Whigs and Democrats, no further courting of Free-Soilers, and no more mutual upbraidings of servility to the South; and that thus the way would be smoothed for intelligent and effective anti-slavery work.
The Free Soil National Convention met in Pittsburg on the eleventh of August, and I believe an assemblage of purer men never convened for any political purpose. All the compromising and trading elements that had drifted into the movement in 1848 had now gravitated back to the old parties, leaving a residuum of permanent adherents of the cause, who were perfectly ready to brave the frowns of public opinion and the proscription and wrath of the old parties. Henry Wilson was made president of the convention, and the platform adopted was substantially that of 1848. A few additional resolves, however, were added, including the declaration "that emigrants and exiles from the old world should find a cordial welcome to homes of comfort and fields of enterprise in the new," and that "every attempt to abridge their privilege of becoming citizens and owners of the soil among us ought to be resisted with inflexible determination." It was also declared "that the Free Democratic party was not organized to aid either the Whig or Democratic wing of the great Slave Compromise party of the Nation, but to defeat them both; and that, repudiating and renouncing both as hopelessly corrupt and utterly unworthy of confidence, the purpose of the Free Democracy is to take possession of the Federal Government, and administer it for the better protection of the rights and interests of the whole people." On this platform John P. Hale was nominated for the Presidency. My own nomination for the second place on the ticket was to me a complete surprise. I fully expected this honor would fall upon Samuel Lewis, of Ohio, and the delegation from my own State was unitedly for him. He coveted the nomination, and so did his many devoted friends, simply as a fitting recognition of his faithful service in the cause of freedom, to which he had been unselfishly devoted since the year 1841. He had made himself a public benefactor by his long and powerful championship of the cause of education in Ohio. He was a man of brains, and enthusiastically devoted to every work of practical philanthropy and reform. As an impassioned, eloquent, and effective popular orator, he had no equal in the country. His profound earnestness, perfect sincerity, and religious fervor conquered all hearts, and made his anti-slavery appeals irresistible. He was a strong and brave old man, who richly deserved whatever distinction his nomination could confer; but for reasons unknown to me he encountered in the convention the formidable opposition of Mr. Chase, and he wrote me very touchingly a few days afterward that "among the thousands who have given their lives and fortunes to this cause, my name will be forgotten, while those who have coolly stood by and watched the signs of the times, and filled their sails with the wind that others have raised, will go down to history as heroes and martyrs in a cause for which they never fought a battle nor suffered a sacrifice."
The canvass of the Whigs was totally without heart or enthusiasm. The Southern wing of the party had dictated the platform, but did not like Gen. Scott. Stephens and Toombs, of Georgia, and Jones and Gentry, of Tennessee, refused to support him. The Northern Whigs were greatly embarrassed, and while they felt constrained to support the candidate, tried to relieve their consciences by "spitting upon the platform" on which he stood. Mr. Webster did not disguise his hostility to the ticket, and predicted the speedy dissolution of the party. The Democrats were united in this contest. Notwithstanding their atrocious platform they succeeded in persuading the leading Barnburners of 1848 to return to the party and muster again in the army of slavery. Dix, the Van Burens, David Dudley Field, Tilden, and a host of others, including even Robert Rantoul and Preston King, were now fighting for Pierce, while Bryant's "Evening Post" and Greeley's "Tribune" cravenly submitted to the shackles of slavery. In the light of such facts as these it was easy to forecast the result of the contest.
The real enthusiasm of this campaign was in the ranks of the Free Soilers. They had, of course, no dream of success, or even of carrying a single electoral vote; but they were profoundly in earnest, and united as one man against the combination of the old parties in behalf of slavery. I took the stump, and early in the campaign accepted an invitation to join Cassius M. Clay in the canvass of the counties of Lewis, Bracken, and Mason, in Kentucky. On my way to our first appointment I stopped at Maysville, where I found myself in the midst of a considerable excitement about some thirty or forty slaves who had just crossed the Ohio on their way to Canada. I met Mr. Clay at the residence of the Rev. John G. Fee, some eight miles distant in Lewis county, where we talked over the plan of our campaign. Mr. Fee was the founder of an anti- slavery colony, a free school, and a free church, in that region, and was a scholar, philanthropist, and reformer. His whole heart was in the anti-slavery cause, and his courage had never failed him in facing the ruffianism and brutality which slavery employed in its service; but I would not have felt very safe in this enterprise without the presence of Mr. Clay, who was known in Kentucky, and everywhere else, as "a fighting Christian," who would defend the freedom of speech at any hazard. Our first meeting was in Mr. Fee's church, in the rocky and mountainous region of the county, where we had perfect order and an attentive and sympathetic audience. From this point we proceeded the next day to our appointment in Maysville, finding a good deal of excitement in the city as to the propriety of allowing us to speak in the court house. It was finally thrown open to us, and in the afternoon I was handsomely introduced by Mr. Clay to a fine audience, speaking at length, and with great plainness, on the issues of the canvass, and being frequently applauded. Mr. Clay spoke at night to a still larger audience, while perfect order prevailed. So far our success seemed gratifying, and Mr. Fee was delighted; and we proceeded the following morning to our next appointment at Brooksville, in Bracken county. Here we found assembled a large crowd of that brutalized rabble element which formed the background of slavery everywhere. The aboriginal creatures gazed at us like so many wild animals, but showed not the slightest disposition to enter the house in which we were to speak. Mr. Clay remarked that they must be Whigs, since they did not seemed inclined to "resist," but only to "discountenance" our agitation; but we had come to speak, and with Mr. Fee's family and a few friends who had come with us for an audience, we spoke about an hour and a half each, just as if the house had been filled. A few straggled in during the speaking, and several hung about the windows and listened, though they tried to seem not to do so; but the most remarkable and praiseworthy thing about this congregation of Yahoos was that they did not mob us. It must have seemed to them a strange waste of power to spare such notorious disturbers of the peace, and return to their homes without any laurels. This ended our work in Kentucky, where we could boast that the "finality" platform had been openly set at defiance, and I returned to my work on the other side of the Ohio.
Later in the canvass, on my return from Wisconsin and Illinois, I learned that Andrew L. Robinson, the Free Soil candidate for Governor of Indiana, had been mobbed in the city of Terre Haute, and prevented from making an anti-slavery speech. This was not surprising, as this section of the State was largely settled by people from Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky, who were as intolerant of abolitionism as those of Bracken county already described. I immediately sent a telegram making an appointment to speak in that city, and on the day appointed reported for duty. I found my friends uneasy and apprehensive. They evidently regretted my coming, and some of them advised me quietly to return home. The town was full of rumors that I was not to be allowed to speak, and was to be "wabashed," as the rowdies phrased it. But I had no thought of returning without being heard; and accordingly, at the appointed hour, I repaired to the court house, where I found a small crowd assembled, with restless countenances, and a gang of ruffians outside, armed with stones and brickbats. The audience gradually increased, and as I began to speak I noticed that the roughs themselves began to listen, which they continued to do during the hour and a half I devoted to the most unmistakable utterances on the slavery question. The ringleader of the mob, for some reason, failed to give the signal of attack, and free speech was vindicated. Timid men grew brave, and boasted of the love of order that had prompted the people of the town to stand by my rights; yet the mob would probably have triumphed but for the presence of Joseph O. Jones, the post-master of the city, himself a Kentuckian, but a believer in the right of free speech and the duty of defending it at all hazards.
The result of this Presidential canvass was a surprise to all parties. The triumph of the Democrats was anticipated, but it was far more signal than they expected. Pierce received two hundred and fifty-four electoral votes, and Scott only forty-two, representing only four States of the Union. So far as the Whig party was concerned, the result was overwhelming and final. The party was buried forever in the grave it had dug for itself. Hale received a little more than one hundred and fifty-six thousand votes, being about one-twentieth of the entire popular vote cast at this election; so that nineteen-twentieths of the people of the United States in 1852, and only a little more than a dozen years before slavery was swept from the land, voted themselves bound and dumb before this Moloch of American politics, while only one-twentieth had the courage to claim their souls as their own. These were very startling facts after more than a quarter of a century of anti-slavery agitation, and they were naturally interpreted by the victorious party everywhere as clearly foreshadowing the complete triumph of the "final settlement" made by Congress in 1850. Certainly they seemed very disheartening to anti-slavery men; for, however confidently they might believe in the final success of their struggle, they could not fail to see the immense odds and fearful obstacles against which they would have to contend. The debauched masses who had been molded and kneaded by the plastic touch of slavery into such base uses, were the only possible material from which recruits could be drawn for a great party of the future, which should regenerate our politics and re-enthrone the love of liberty; and this should be remembered in estimating the courage and faith of the men who in that dark hour held aloft the banner of freedom, in spite of all temptations to go with the multitude.
But there was another view of the situation which thoughtful anti- slavery men did not fail to enforce. The overwhelming triumph of Pierce was not an unmixed victory for slavery. It had another explanation. It was to be remembered, to the credit of the Whig party, that thousands of its members, notwithstanding their dislike of Pierce and their admiration of Gen. Scott as a man and a soldier, and despite the attempted drill of their leaders and the influence of Greeley and Seward, could not be induced to support the ticket, and were now ready for further acts of independence. It was likewise to be remembered that in the complete rout and ruin of the party a great obstacle to anti-slavery progress had been removed. The slave-holders at once recognized this fact. They had aimed to defeat the party, not to annihilate it. They saw clearly what slavery needed was two pretty evenly divided parties, pitted against each other on economic issues, so that under cover of their strife it could be allowed to have its way; and they were justly alarmed at the prospect of a new movement, having its action upon moral grounds, and gathering into its ranks the unshackled conscience and intelligence of the Northern States. The "Washington Union," then the national organ of the Democracy, deplored the death of the Whig party, and earnestly hoped for its resurrection. The fact had always been patent to anti-slavery men that these parties were alike the bulwarks of slavery, since the Southern wing of each gave law to the whole body, and that until one or the other could be totally destroyed, a really formidable anti-slavery party was impossible. There was also great cause for encouragement in the evident signs of a growing anti-slavery public opinion. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" had found its way to the millions on both sides of the Atlantic, and the rage for it among all classes was without parallel in the history of literature. It was served up for the masses in sixpenny editions, dramatized and acted on the stage, and coined into poetry and song. Slave-holders were alarmed at its wonderful success, because they saw the grand part it was playing in creating that "public opinion of the civilized world" which Mr. Webster had declared to be "the mightiest power on earth." The replies to this wonderful book, and the anti-slavery and pro-slavery literature to which it gave birth, largely contributed to the progress of freedom, and the final repudiation of the "finality" which the great parties had combined to establish.
Nor was the small vote for Hale a matter of serious discouragement. It was much smaller than that cast for Van Buren in 1848; but that was a deceptive epoch. Multitudes, and especially in the State of New York, then voted the Free Soil ticket who had never before shown any interest in the slavery question, and did not manifest it afterward. They were not Free Soil men, but Van Buren men, who hated Gen. Cass. The vote for Hale represented the bona fide strength of our cause after this element had been eliminated, and its quality went far to atone for its quantity. The proper test of anti-slavery progress was a comparison of the anti-slavery vote of 1844 with that of 1852, and this showed an increase of nearly three-fold in the intervening space of eight years. This steady evolution of anti-slavery opinion from the deadening materialism and moral inertia of the times could not go backward, but in the very nature of things would repeat itself, and gather fresh momentum from every effort put forth to stay its advance.
CHAPTER VII. THE EVOLUTION OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY (CONTINUED). A notable fugitive slave case—Inauguration of Pierce—Repeal of the Missouri compromise—Its effect 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.
It was early in the year 1853 that a notable fugitive slave case occurred in Indiana. The alleged fugitive was John Freeman, who had once resided in Georgia, but for many years had been a resident of Indianapolis and had never been a slave. The marshal of the State, though he had voted against the passage of the Fugitive Act of 1850, entered upon the service of Ellington, the claimant, with a zeal and alacrity which made him exceedingly odious to anti- slavery men. He accompanied Ellington into the jail in which Freeman was confined, and compelled him to expose his shoulders and legs, so that the witnesses could identify him by certain marks, and swear according to the pattern, which they did. The case became critical for Freeman; but the feeling in Indianapolis was so strong in his favor that a continuance of the hearing was granted to enable him to prepare his proofs. He hired friends to go to Georgia, who succeeded in bringing back with them several men who had known him there many years before, and testified that he was a free man. On the day of the trial Ellington became the fugitive, while Freeman was preparing his papers for a prosecution for false imprisonment. The large crowd in attendance was quite naturally turned into an anti-slavery meeting, which was made to do good service in the way of "agitation." The men from Georgia were on the platform, and while they were complimented by the speakers on their love of justice and humanity in coming to the rescue of Freeman, no quarter was given to the Northern serviles and flunkeys who had made haste to serve the perjured villains who had undertaken to kidnap a citizen of the State under the forms of an atrocious law. The meeting was very enthusiastic, and the tables completely turned on the slave-catching faction.