Political Recollections - 1840 to 1872
by George W. Julian
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

When President Pierce was inaugurated, on the fourth of March, 1853, the pride and power of the Democratic party seemed to be at their flood. In his inaugural message he expressed the fervent hope that the slavery question was "forever at rest," and he doubtless fully believed that this hope would be realized. In his annual message, in December following, he lauded the Compromise measures with great emphasis, and declared that the repose which they had brought to the country should receive no shock during his term of office if he could avert it. The anti-slavery element in the Thirty-third Congress was scarcely as formidable as in the preceding one, though there were some accessions. Benjamin F. Wade was now in the Senate, and De Witt of Massachusetts, Gerrit Smith of New York, and Edward Wade of Ohio, were members of the House. In the beginning the session gave promise of a quiet one, but on the twenty-third of January the precious repose of the country, to which the President had so lovingly referred in his message, was rudely shocked by the proposition of Senator Douglas to repeal the Missouri compromise. This surprising demonstration from a leading friend of the Administration and a champion of the compromise measures marked a new epoch in the career of slavery, and rekindled the fires of sectional strife. After a very exciting debate in both houses, which lasted four months, the measure finally became a law on the thirtieth of May, 1854. It was a sprout from the grave of the Wilmot proviso; for if, under the Constitution, it was the duty of Congress to abandon the policy of restriction in 1850, and provide that Utah and New Mexico should be received into the Union, with or without slavery, according to the choice of their people, the Missouri compromise line should never have been established, and was a rock of offense to the slave-holders. The Compromise Acts of 1850 had not abrogated that line, and related only to our Mexican acquisitions; but they had affirmed a principle, and if that principle was sound, the Missouri restriction was indefensible. The whole question of slavery was thus reopened, for the sacredness of the compact of 1820 and the wickedness of its violation depended largely upon the character of slavery itself, and our constitutional relations to it.

On all sides the situation was exceedingly critical and peculiar. The Whigs, in their now practically disbanded condition, were free to act as they saw fit, and were very indignant at this new demonstration in the interest of slavery, while they were yet in no mood to countenance any form of "abolitionism." Multitudes of Democrats were equally indignant, and were quite ready to join hands with the Whigs in branding slavery with the violation of its plighted faith. Both made the sacredness of the bargain of 1820 and the crime of its violation the sole basis of their hostility. Their hatred of slavery was geographical, spending its force north of the Missouri restriction. They talked far more eloquently about the duty of keeping covenants, and the wickedness of reviving sectional agitation, than the evils of slavery, and the cold-blooded conspiracy to spread it over an empire of free soil. Their watch- word and rallying cry was "the restoration of the Missouri compromise"; but this demand was not made merely as a preliminary to other measures, which would restore the free States to the complete assertion of their constitutional rights, but as a means of propitiating the spirit of compromise, and a convenient retreat to the adjustment acts of 1850 and the "finality" platforms of 1852. In some States and localities the anti-slavery position of these parties was somewhat broader; but as a general rule the ground on which they marshaled their forces was substantially what I have stated.

The position of the Free Soilers was radically different. They opposed slavery upon principle, and irrespective of any compact or compromise. They did not demand the restoration of the Missouri compromise; and although they rejoiced at the popular condemnation of the perfidy which had repealed it, they regarded it as a false issue. It was an instrument on which different tunes could be played. To restore this compromise would prevent the spread of slavery over soil that was free; but it would re-affirm the binding obligation of a compact that should never have been made, and from which we were now offered a favorable opportunity of deliverance. It would be to recognize slavery as an equal and honorable contracting party, waiving its violated faith, and thus precluding us from pleading its perfidy in discharge of all compromises. It would degrade our cause to the level of those who washed their hands of all taint of abolitionism, and only waged war against the Administration because it broke up the blessed reign of peace which descended upon the country in the year 1850. These Free Soilers insisted that the breach of this compact was only a single link in a great chain of measures aiming at the absolute supremacy of slavery in the Government, and thus inviting a resistance commensurate with that policy; and that this breach should be made the exodus of the people from the bondage of all compromises. They argued that to cut down the issue between slavery and freedom to so narrow, equivocal, and half-hearted a measure, at a time when every consideration pleaded for radical and thorough work, was practical infidelity to the cause and the crisis. It was sporting with humanity, and giving to the winds a glorious victory for the right when it was within our grasp.

The situation was complicated by two other political elements. One of these was Temperance, which now, for the first time, had become a most absorbing political issue. The "Maine Law" agitation had reached the West, and the demand of the temperance leaders was "search, seizure, confiscation, and destruction of liquors kept for illegal sale." Keenly alive to the evils of drunkenness, and too impatient to wait for the inevitable conditions of progress, they thought the great work could be accomplished by a legislative short-cut. They insisted that the "accursed poison" of the "rumseller," wherever it could be found, should be poured into the gutter along with other filth, while he should be marched off to answer to the charge of a crime against society, and take his rank among other great offenders. Instead of directing their chief attack against the appetite for drink and seeking to lessen the demand, their effort was to destroy the supply. They had evidently given no thought to the function of civil government in dealing with the problem, nor did they perceive that the vice of drunkenness is an effect, quite as much as a cause, having its genesis in the unequal laws, in the domination of wealth over the poor, in the lack of general education, in inherited infirmities, physical and mental, in neglected household training; in a word, in untoward social conditions which must be radically dealt with before we can strike with effect at the root of the evil. They did not see that the temperance question is thus a many-sided one, involving the general uplifting of society, and that no legislation can avail much which loses sight of this truth. For these very reasons the agitation for a time swept everything before it. Its current was resistless, because it was narrow and impetuous. If the leaders had comprehended the logic of their work and its unavoidable limitations, and had only looked forward to the overthrow of the fabric of intemperance by undermining its foundations, the regular current of politics would not have been perceptibly affected, while the way would have been left open for a more perfect union on the really vital and overshadowing issue of slavery.

The other element referred to made its appearance in the closing months of 1853, and took the name of the Know-Nothing party. It was a secret oath-bound political order, and its demand was the proscription of Catholics and a probation of twenty-one years for the foreigner as a qualification for the right of suffrage. Its career was as remarkable as it was disgraceful. Thousands were made to believe that the Romish hierarchy was about to overthrow our liberties, and that the evils of "foreignism" had become so alarming as to justify the extraordinary measures by which it was proposed to counteract them. Thousands, misled by political knaves through the arts of the Jesuits believed that the cause of freedom was to be sanctified and saved by this new thing under the sun. Thousands, through their unbridled credulity, were persuaded that political hacks and charlatans were to lose their occupation under the reign of the new Order, and that our debauched politics were to be thoroughly purified by the lustration which it promised forthwith to perform. Thousands, eager to bolt from the old parties, but fearful of being shot down on the way as deserters, gladly availed themselves of this newly devised "underground railroad" in escaping from the service of their old masters. Under these various influences the Whigs generally, and a large proportion of the Free Soilers and Democrats, were enlisted in the service of this remarkable movement. Pretending to herald a new era in our politics in which the people were to take the helm and expel demagogues and traders from the ship, it reduced political swindling to the certainty and system of a science. It drew to itself, as the great festering centre of corruption, all the known rascalities of the previous generation, and assigned them to active duty in its service. It was an embodied lie of the first magnitude, a horrid conspiracy against decency, the rights of man, and the principle of human brotherhood.

Its birth, simultaneously with the repeal of the Missouri compromise, was not an accident, as any one could see who had studied the tactics of the slave-holders. It was a well-timed scheme to divide the people of the free States upon trifles and side issues, while the South remained a unit in defense of its great interest. It was the cunning attempt to balk and divert the indignation aroused by the repeal of the Missouri restriction, which else would spend its force upon the aggressions of slavery; for by thus kindling the Protestant jealousy of our people against the Pope, and enlisting them in a crusade against the foreigner, the South could all the more successfully push forward its schemes.

On this ground, as an anti-slavery man, I opposed it with all my might from the beginning to the end of its life. For a time it carried everything with a high hand. It was not only irresistible in numbers, but it fought in the dark. It pretended to act openly and in friendly conference with its enemies as to questions which it had already settled in secret conclave. Its opponents did not know how to wage war against it, because they did not know who were their friends. If a meeting was called to expose and denounce its schemes, it was drowned in the Know-Nothing flood which, at the appointed time, completely overwhelmed the helpless minority. This happened in my own county and town, where thousands of men, including many of my old Free Soil brethren, assembled as an organized mob to suppress the freedom of speech; and they succeeded by brute force in taking possession of every building in which their opponents could meet, and silencing them by savage yells. At one time I think I had less than a dozen political friends in the State, and I could see in the glad smile which lighted up the faces of my old- time enemies that they considered me beyond the reach of political resurrection. But I never for a moment intermitted my warfare, or doubted that in the end the truth would be vindicated, although I did not dream that in less than two years I would be the recognized leader of the men composing this mob, who would be found denying their membership of this secret order, or confessing it with shame. It was a strange dispensation; and no record of independent journalism was ever more honorable than that of the "New York Tribune" and "National Era," during their heroic and self-sacrificing fight against this organized scheme of bigotry and proscription, which can only be remembered as the crowning and indelible shame of our politics. It admits of neither defense or palliation, and I am sorry to find Henry Wilson's "History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power" disfigured by his elaborate efforts to whitewash it into respectability, and give it a decent place in the records of the past.

Such were the elements which mingled and commingled in the political ferment of 1854, and out of which an anti-slavery party was to be evolved capable of trying conclusions with the perfectly disciplined power of slavery. The problem was exceedingly difficult, and could not be solved in a day. The necessary conditions of progress could not be slighted, and the element of time must necessarily be a large one in the grand movement which was to come. The dispersion of the old parties was one thing, but the organization of their fragments into a new one on a just basis was quite a different thing. The honor of taking the first step in the formation of the Republican party belongs to Michigan, where the Whigs and Free Soilers met in State convention on the sixth of July, formed a complete fusion into one party, and adopted the name Republican. This action was followed soon after by like movements in the States of Wisconsin and Vermont. In Indiana a State "fusion" convention was held on the thirteenth of July, which adopted a platform, nominated a ticket, and called the new movement the "People's Party." The platform, however, was narrow and equivocal, and the ticket nominated had been agreed on the day before by the Know- Nothings, in secret conclave, as the outside world afterward learned. The ticket was elected, but it was done by combining opposite and irreconcilable elements, and was not only barren of good fruits but prolific of bad ones, through its demoralizing example; for the same dishonest game was attempted the year following, and was overwhelmingly defeated by the Democrats. In New York the Whigs refused to disband, and the attempt to form a new party failed. The same was true of Massachusetts and Ohio. The latter State, however, in 1855, fell into the Republican column, and nominated Mr. Chase for Governor, who was elected by a large majority. A Republican movement was attempted this year in Massachusetts, where conservative Whiggery and Know-Nothingism blocked the way of progress, as they did also in the State of New York. In November of the year 1854 the Know-Nothing party held a National Convention in Cincinnati, in which the hand of slavery was clearly revealed, and the "Third Degree" or pro-slavery obligation of the order, was adopted; and it was estimated that at least a million and a half of men afterward bound themselves by this obligation. In June of the following year another National Convention of the order was held in Philadelphia, and at this convention the party was finally disrupted on the issue of slavery, and its errand of mischief henceforward prosecuted by fragmentary and irregular methods; but even the Northern wing of this Order was untrustworthy on the slavery issue, having proposed, as a condition of union, to limit its anti-slavery demand to the restoration of the Missouri restriction and the admission of Kansas and Nebraska as free States.

Indeed, the outlook as to the formation of a triumphant anti-slavery party was not so promising towards the close of the year 1855 as it had seemed in the spring of the preceding year. If the Free Soilers had been clear-sighted enough to distinguish between that which was transient and that which was permanent in the forces which had roused the people of the free States, and, availing themselves of the repeal of the Missouri restriction as a God-send to their cause, had summoned the manhood of the country to their help, a powerful impulse would have been given in the right direction. But in the general confusion and bewilderment of the times many of them lost their way, and were found mustering with the mongrel hordes of Know-Nothingism, and under captains who were utterly unworthy to lead them. Instead of inflexibly maintaining their ground and beckoning the people to come up and possess it, they meanly deserted it themselves, while vainly expecting others to occupy it. The Whigs were totally powerless to render any service without first disbanding their party, and this, in many localities, they declined to do. Both wings of the Know-Nothing movement were organized obstacles to the formation of a new party, while the bolters from the Democrats were as unprepared for radical anti- slavery work as the Whigs or Know-Nothings. But notwithstanding all these drawbacks, real progress had been made. In the Thirty- fourth Congress, Wilson, Foster, Harlan, Trumbull, and Durkee were chosen senators. In the House were Burlingame, Buffington, Banks, Hickman, Grow, Covode, Sherman, Bliss, Galloway, Bingham, Harlan, Stanton, Colfax, Washburn, and many others. These were great gains, and clearly pointed to still larger accessions, and the final subordination of minor issues to the grand one on which the people of the free States were to take their stand. An unprecedented struggle for the Speakership began with the opening of the Thirty- fourth Congress, and lasted till the second day of February, when the free States finally achieved their first victory in the election of Banks. Northern manhood at last was at a premium, and this was largely the fruit of the "border ruffian" attempts to make Kansas a slave State, which had stirred the blood of the people during the year 1855. In the meantime, the arbitrary enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act still further contributed to the growth of an anti-slavery opinion. The famous case of Anthony Burns in Boston, the prosecution of S. M. Booth in Wisconsin, and the decision of the Supreme Court of that State, the imprisonment of Passmore Williamson in Philadelphia, and the outrageous rulings of Judge Kane, and the case of Margaret Garner in Ohio, all played their part in preparing the people of the free States for organized political action against the aggressions of slavery.

Near the close of the year 1855, the chairmen of the Republican State Committees of Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin, issued a call for a National Republican Convention to be held at Pittsburg, on the 22d of February, 1856, for the purpose of organizing a National Republican party, and making provision for a subsequent convention to nominate candidates for President and Vice President. It was very largely attended, and bore witness to the spirit and courage which the desperate measures of the slave oligarchy had awakened throughout the Northern States. All the free States were represented, and eight of the slave-holding, namely: Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Texas. The convention assembled in Lafayette Hall, and the Hon. John A. King, of New York, a son of Rufus King, was made temporary chairman, and Francis P. Blair, of Maryland, the intimate friend of President Jackson, was made its permanent president. He was most enthusiastically greeted on taking the chair, and began his address with the remark that this was the first time he had ever been called on to make a speech. His views were too conservative in tone to satisfy the demands of the crisis, but he was most cordially welcomed as a distinguished delegate from a slave State. The convention was opened by a prayer from Owen Lovejoy, and there was a suppressed murmur of applause when he asked God to enlighten the mind of the President of the United States, and turn him from his evil ways, and if this was not possible, to take him away, so that an honest and God-fearing man might fill his place. Horace Greeley was seen in the audience, and was loudly and unitedly called on for a speech. He spoke briefly, saying that he had been in Washington several weeks, and friends there "counseled extreme caution in our movements." This was the burden of his exhortation. At the close of his remarks Mr. Giddings was tumultuously called for, and responded by saying that Washington was the last place in the world to look for counsel or redress, and related an anecdote of two pious brothers, named Joseph and John, who in early times had begun a settlement in the West. Joseph prayed to the Lord: "O, Lord! we have begun a good work; we pray thee to carry it on thus,"—giving specific directions. But John prayed: "O, Lord, we have begun a good work; carry it on as you think best, and don't mind what Joe says." Mr. Giddings then introduced the Rev. Owen Lovejoy, of Illinois,—"not Joe, but John." Mr. Lovejoy delighted the audience, and was followed by Preston King and other speakers; and it was quite manifest that this was a Republican convention, and not a mere aggregation of Whigs, Know-Nothings, and dissatisfied Democrats. It contained a considerable Know-Nothing element, but it made no attempt at leadership, while Charles Remelin and other speakers were enthusiastically applauded when they denounced Know-Nothingism as a mischievous side issue in our politics, which the new movement should openly repudiate. The convention was in session two days, and was singularly harmonious throughout. Its resolutions and address to the people did not fitly echo the feeling and purpose of its members, but this was a preliminary movement, and it was evident that nothing could stay the progress of the cause. As chairman of the committee on organization, I had the honor to report the plan of action through which the new party took life, providing for the appointment of a National Executive Committee, the holding of a National Convention in Philadelphia on the 17th of June, for the nomination of candidates for President and Vice President, and the organization of the party in counties and districts throughout the States.

The Philadelphia convention was very large, and marked by unbounded enthusiasm. The spirit of liberty was up, and side issues forgotten. If Know-Nothingism was present, it prudently accepted an attitude of subordination. The platform reasserted the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence, and denied that Congress, the people of a Territory, or any other authority, could give legal existence to slavery in any Territory of the United States. It asserted the sovereign power of Congress over the Territories, and its right and duty to prohibit it therein. Know-Nothingism received no recognition, and the double-faced issue of the restoration of the Missouri compromise was disowned, while the freedom of Kansas was dealt with as a mere incident of the conflict between liberty and slavery. On this broad platform John C. Fremont was nominated for President on the first ballot, and Wm. L. Dayton was unanimously nominated for Vice-President. The National Republican party was thus splendidly launched, and nothing seemed to stand in the way of its triumph but the mischievous action of the Know-Nothing party, and a surviving faction of pro-slavery Whigs. The former party met in National Convention in Philadelphia, on the twenty-second of February, and nominated Millard Fillmore for President and Andrew J. Donelson for Vice President. Some bolters from this convention subsequently nominated Nathaniel P. Banks and William F. Johnson as their candidates, and a remnant of the Whig party held a convention at Baltimore on the seventeenth of September, and endorsed Fillmore and Donelson; but a dissatisfied portion of the convention afterward nominated Commodore Stockton and Kenneth Raynor. All these factions were destined soon to political extinction, but in a hand-to-hand fight with the slave power they yet formed a considerable obstacle to that union and harmony in the free States which were necessary to success.

The Democratic National Convention met at Cincinnati on the second of June. The candidates were Buchanan, Pierce, and Douglas. On the seventeenth ballot Buchanan was unanimously nominated for President, and on the second ballot John C. Breckenridge was nominated for Vice President. The platform re-affirmed the action of Congress respecting the repeal of the Missouri compromise and the compromises of 1850, and recognized the right of the people of all the Territories, including Kansas and Nebraska, whenever the number of their inhabitants justified it, to form a Constitution with or without domestic slavery, and to be admitted into the Union upon terms of equality with the other States. These declarations, together with the express denial to Congress of the right to interfere with slavery in the Territories, were accepted as satisfactory to the South, and were fairly interpreted to mean that the people of the Territories, pending their territorial condition, had no power to exclude slavery therefrom. In Mr. Buchanan's letter of acceptance, he completely buried his personality in the platform, and Albert G. Brown of Mississippi, and Governor Wise of Virginia, pronounced him as true to the South as Mr. Calhoun himself. These were the tickets for 1856, but the real contest was between Buchanan and Fremont. It was pre-eminently a conflict of principles. The issues could hardly have been better defined, and they were vital. It was a struggle between two civilizations, between reason and brute force, between the principles of Democracy and the creed of Absolutism; and the case was argued with a force, earnestness, and fervor, never before known. No Presidential contest had ever so touched the popular heart, or so lifted up and ennobled the people by the contagion of a great and pervading moral enthusiasm. The campaign for Buchanan, however, was not particularly animated, at least in the Northern States. It illustrated the power of party machinery, and the desperate purpose to press forward along a path which had been followed too far to call a halt. It was a struggle for party ascendancy by continual and most humiliating concessions to the ever-multiplying demands of slavery; and the ardor of the struggle must have been cooled by many troublesome misgivings as to the final effect of these concessions, and the policy of purchasing a victory at such a price.

The excitement of the canvass was aggravated by very exasperating circumstances. The brutal and cowardly assault of Brooks upon Sumner was the counterpart of border ruffianism in Kansas, and perhaps did more to stir the blood of the people of the Northern States than any of the wholesale outrages thus far perpetrated in that distant border. These outrages, however, were now multiplied in all directions, and took on new shapes. They were legislative, executive, and judicial, cropping out in private pillage and assassination, in organized marauding and murder, and in armed violence; and these horrid demonstrations enlivened the canvass to the end. Republican enthusiasm reached its white heat, borrowing the self-forgetting devotion and dedicated zeal of a religious conversion. Banks and tariffs and methods of administration were completely forgotten, while thousands of Democrats who had been trained in the school of slavery, and hundreds of thousands of conservative Whigs, caught the spirit of liberty which animated the followers of Fremont and Dayton. The canvass had no parallel in the history of American politics. No such mass-meetings had ever assembled. They were not only immense in numbers, but seemed to come together spontaneously, and wholly independent of machinery. The processions, banners, and devices were admirable in all their appointments, and no political campaign had ever been inspired by such charming and soul-stirring music, or cheered by such a following of orderly, intelligent, conscientious and thoroughly devoted men and women. To me the memory of this first great national struggle for liberty is a delight, as the part I played in it was a real jubilee of the heart. I was welcomed by the Republican masses everywhere, and the fact was as gratifying to me as it proved mortifying to the party chiefs who, a little while before, had found such comfort in the assurance that henceforward they were rid of me. With many wry faces they submitted, after all sorts of manoeuvers early in the canvass to keep me in the background, varied by occasional threats to drive me out of the party. As their own party standing became somewhat precarious they completely changed their base, and often amused the public by super-serviceable displays of their personal friendship. Even the ring-leader of the Know- Nothing mob of two years before, standing up to his full height of "six feet six," used to introduce me at mass meetings as "Your honored representative in Congress, and war-worn veteran in the cause of liberty."

But Buchanan triumphed. The baleful interposition of Know-Nothingism stood in the way of that union of forces which the situation demanded, and was thus chiefly responsible for the Republican defeat. The old Whigs who had so recently stepped from their "finality" platform, could not be unitedly rallied, and the Democratic bolters were only half converted. In my own State the opposition to the Democracy repudiated even the name Republican, and entered the field as "the People's party." It was a combination of weaknesses, instead of a union of forces. All the Fillmore Know- Nothings and Silver-Grey Whigs of the State were recognized as brethren. At least one man on the State ticket, of which Oliver P. Morton was the head, was a Fillmore man, while both Fillmore and anti-Fillmore men had been chosen as delegates to Philadelphia and electors for the State. The political managers even went so far as to suppress their own electoral ticket during the canvass, as a peace-offering to old Whiggery and Know-Nothingism, while the admission of Kansas as a free State was dealt with as the sole issue, and border ruffian outrages and elaborate disclaimers of "abolitionism" were the regular staple of our orators, who openly declared that the Republican party was a "white man's party." Anti- slavery speakers like Clay and Burlingame were studiously kept out of Southern Indiana, where the teachings of Republicanism were especially needed, and Richard W. Thompson, then the professed champion of Fillmore, but in reality the stipendary of the Democrats, traversed that region on the stump, denounced the Republicans as "Abolitionists," "disunionists," and "incendiaries," and was everywhere unchallenged in his course. Similar tactics, though not so deplorably despicable, prevailed in several of the other States, giving unmistakable evidence of the need of a still further and more thorough enlightenment of the people as to the spirit and aims of slavery. In the light of these facts, I was not at all cast down by the defeat of Fremont. He was known as an explorer, and not as a statesman. If he had succeeded, with mere politicians in his cabinet, a Congress against him, and only a partially developed anti-slavery sentiment behind him, the cause of freedom would have been in fearful peril. The revolution so hopefully begun might have been arrested by half-way measures, promoting the slumber rather than the agitation of the truth, while the irritating nostrums of Buchanan Democracy, so necessary to display the abominations of slavery, would have been lost to us. The moral power of the canvass for Fremont was itself a great gain, notwithstanding the cowardice of some of its leaders. The Republican movement could not now go backward, and with a probation of four years to prepare for the next conflict, unembarrassed by the responsibilities of power, and free to profit by the blunders and misdeeds of its foe, it was pretty sure of a triumph in 1860. Fremont had received a popular vote of one million three hundred and forty-one thousand two hundred and sixty-four, carrying eleven States and one hundred and fourteen electoral votes; while only four years before, John P. Hale, standing on substantially the same platform, had received only a little more than one hundred and fifty-seven thousand, and not a single electoral vote. This showed a marvelous anti-slavery progress, considering the age of the movement, the elements it forced into combination, and the difficulties under which it struggled into life; and no one could misinterpret its significance.

CHAPTER VIII. PROGRESS OF REPUBLICANISM. The Dred Scott decision—The 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 Republican 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 National Convention and its platform—Lincoln and Seward —Canvass of Douglas—The campaign for Lincoln—Conduct of Seward —Republican concessions and slave-holding madness.

The Republicans, however, were sorely disappointed by their defeat; but this second great victory of slavery did not at all check the progress of the anti-slavery cause. It had constantly gathered strength from the audacity and recklessness of slave-holding fanaticism, and it continued to do so. On the 6th of March, 1857, the Supreme Court of the United States harnessed itself to the car of slavery by its memorable decision in the case of Dred Scott, affirming that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in the Territories, and, inferentially, that the Constitution carried with it the right to hold slaves there, even against the will of their people. The point was not before the court, and the opinion of Chief Justice Taney was therefore purely extra-judicial. It was simply a political harangue in defense of slavery. It created a profound impression throughout the free States, and became a powerful weapon in the hands of Republicans. It was against the whole current of adjudications on the subject, and they denounced it as a vile caricature of American jurisprudence. They characterized it as the distilled diabolism of two hundred years of slavery, stealthily aiming at the overthrow of our Republican institutions, while seeking to hide its nakedness under the fig-leaves of judicial fairness and dignity. They branded it as the desperate attempt of slave-breeding Democracy to crown itself king, by debauching the Federal judiciary and waging war against the advance of civilization. Their denunciations of the Chief Justice were unsparing and remorseless; and they described him as "pouring out the hoarded villainies of a life-time into a political opinion which he tried to coin into law." When Senator Douglas sought to ridicule their clamor by inquiring whether they would take an appeal from the Supreme Court of the United States to a town meeting, they answered: "Yes, we appeal from the court to the people, who made the Constitution, and have the right, as the tribunal of last resort, to define its meaning." Nothing could more clearly have marked the degradation to which the power of slavery had reduced the country than this decision, and no other single event could have so prepared the people for resistance to its aggressions. It was thoroughly cold-blooded in its letter and spirit, and no Spanish Inquisitor ever showed less sympathy for his victim than did the Chief Justice for the slave.

But the Dred Scott iniquity did not stand alone. It had been procured for the purpose of fastening slavery upon all the Territories, and it had, of course, a special meaning when applied to the desperate struggle then in progress to make Kansas a slave State. The conduct of the Administration during this year, in its treatment of the free State men of that Territory, forms one of the blackest pages in the history of slavery. The facts respecting their labors, trials, and sufferings, and the methods employed to force upon them the Lecompton Constitution, including wholesale ballot-stuffing and every form of ruffianism, pillage, and murder, need not be recalled; but all these were but the outcroppings and counterpart of the Dred Scott decision, and the horrid travesty of the principle of popular sovereignty in the Territories. The whole power of the Administration, acting as the hired man of slavery, was ruthlessly employed for the purpose of spreading the curse over Kansas, and establishing it there as an irreversible fact; and all the departments of the Government now stood as a unit on the side of this devilish conspiracy. Everybody knew the Lecompton constitution was the work of outside ruffians, and not of the people of the Territory, whose Legislature in February, 1858, solemnly protested against their admission under that Constitution, and whose protest was totally unheeded. The Congressional debates during this period greatly contributed to the anti-slavery education of the people, by more clearly unmasking the real spirit and designs of the slaveholders. We were treated to the kind of talk then becoming current about "Northern mud-sills," "filthy operatives," the "ownership of labor by capital," and the beauties and beatitudes of slavery. Such maddened extremists as Hammond and Keitt of South Carolina, and such blatant doughfaces as Petit of Indiana, became capital missionaries in the cause of freedom. Their words were caught up by the press of the free States, and added their beneficent help to the work so splendidly going forward through the providential agency of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

In the meantime, freedom had made large gains in the composition of the Thirty-fifth Congress, which now had charge of the Lecompton swindle. The Senate contained twenty Republican members and the House ninety-two. Kansas had not been forced into the Union as a slave State, but she was helpless at the feet of the Executive. In the midst of the angry debate a new proposition was brought forward, on the twenty-third of April, which was even more detestable than the Lecompton bill itself. This was known as the "English bill," which offered Kansas a very large and tempting land grant, if she would come into the Union under the Lecompton Constitution, but provided that if she voted to reject the land grant she should neither receive the land nor be admitted as a State until the Territory acquired a population sufficient to elect a representative to the House. The infamy of this proposition was heightened by the fact that these long-suffering pioneers, weary and harassed by their protracted struggle and longing for peace, were naturally tempted to purchase it at any price. It was a proposition of gigantic bribery, after bluster and bullying had been exhausted. It was, in fact, both a bribe and a menace, and measured at once the political morality of the men who favored it, and the extremity to which the slave-holders were driven in the prosecution of their desperate enterprise. After a protracted debate in both Houses, and at the end of a struggle of five months, the bill was passed and received the Executive approval; but the rejoicing of the slave- holders and their allies was short-lived. The people of Kansas were not in the market. They had suffered too much and too long in the battle for freedom to make merchandise of their convictions and sacrifice the future of a great commonwealth. They spurned the bribe, and took the chances of triumph through an indefinitely prolonged conflict, while recruits to the ranks of freedom were naturally falling into line throughout the Northern States.

In December of this year I attended another fugitive slave case in Indianapolis. The claimant was one Vallandingham, of Kentucky, whose agent caught the alleged fugitive in Illinois, and was passing through Indianapolis on his way home. The counsel for the negro, Ellsworth, Coburn, Colley, and myself, brought the case before Judge Wallace, on habeas corpus, and had him discharged. The claimant immediately had him arrested and taken before Commissioner Rea, for trial. We asked for the continuance of the case on the affidavit of the negro that he was free, and could prove it if allowed three weeks' time in which to procure his witnesses; but the Commissioner ruled that the proceeding was a summary ex-parte one, and that the defendant had no right to any testimony. Of course we were forced into trial, and after allowing secondary proof where the highest was attainable, and permitting hearsay evidence and mere rumor, the Commissioner granted his certificate for the removal of the adjudged fugitive. We again brought the case before Judge Wallace, on habeas corpus, when the negro denied all the material facts of the marshal's return, under oath, and asked to be allowed to prove his denial; but the Judge refused this, and he was handed over to the marshal for transportation South. On the trial he was shown to have been free by the act of his master in sending him into a free State; but under cover of an infamous law, and by the help of truculent officials, he was remanded into slavery. The counsel for the negro, with a dozen or more who joined them, resolved upon one further effort to save him. The project was that two or three men selected for the purpose were to ask of the jailer the privilege of seeing him the next morning and giving him good-bye; and while one of the party engaged the jailer in conversation, the negro was to make for the door, mount a horse hitched near by, and effect his escape. The enterprise had a favorable beginning. The negro got out, mounted a horse, and might have escaped if he had been a good horseman; but he was awkward and clumsy, and unfortunately mounted the wrong horse, and a very poor traveler; and when he saw the jailer in pursuit, and heard the report of his revolver, he surrendered, and was at once escorted South. Walpole and his brother were for the claimant. This is the only felony in which I was ever involved, but none of the parties to it had any disposition whatever to confess it at the time.

The Republican party gathered fresh courage and strength in the year 1858 from the defection of Douglas. His unmistakable ability and hitherto unquestioned devotion to slavery had singled him out as the great leader and coming man of his party. He was ambitious, and by no means scrupulous in his political methods. The moral character of slavery gave him not the slightest concern, ostentatiously declaring that he did not care whether it was "voted up or voted down" in the Territories, and always lavishing his contempt upon the negro. He was the great champion of popular sovereignty, but at the same time fully committed himself to the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, whatever it might be; and after that decision had been given, and, in effect, against his particular hobby, he defended it, while vainly striving to vindicate his consistency. But the Lecompton swindle was so revolting a mockery of the right of the people of Kansas, that his own Democratic constituents would not endorse it, and he was obliged, contrary to his strong party inclinations, to take his stand against it. It was an event of very great significance, both North and South, and gave great comfort to anti-slavery men of all shades of opinion; but it brought with it, at the same time, a serious peril to the Republican party.

His accession to the Anti-Lecompton ranks was deemed so important that many leading Republicans, of different States, thought he should be welcomed and honored by the withdrawal of all party opposition to his re-election to the Senate. They argued that in no other way could the despotic power of the Democratic power be so effectually broken, and the real interests of republicanism advanced. This feeling, for a time, prevailed extensively, and threatened to put in abeyance or completely supersede the principles so broadly laid down in the national platform of 1856. The "New York Tribune" took the lead in beating this retreat. It sympathized with Douglas to the end of his canvass, and in connection with kindred agencies probably saved him from defeat. It urged the disbanding of the Republican party, and the formation of a new combination against the Democrats, composed of Republicans, Douglas Democrats, Know-Nothings, and old Whigs, but without any avowal of principles. It proposed that by the common consent of these parties the Republicans should be allowed to name the next candidate for the Presidency, and the other parties the candidate for the Vice Presidency; or that this proposition should be reversed, if found advisable, with a view to harmony. The different wings of this combination were to call themselves by such names and proclaim such principles in different States and localities as might seem to them most conducive to local success and united ascendancy. This abandonment of republicanism was likewise favored by such papers as the "Cincinnati Gazette," which pronounced the policy of Congressional prohibition worthless as a means of excluding slavery from the Territories, and openly committed itself to the admission of more slave States, whenever demanded by a popular majority in any Territory. "The Indianapolis Journal" and other leading Republican organs spoke of Congressional prohibition as "murdered by Dred Scott," and as having no longer any practical value. In the spring of this year the Republicans of Indiana, in their State convention, not only surrendered the policy of Congressional prohibition, and adopted the principle of popular sovereignty, but made opposition to the Lecompton Constitution the sole issue of the canvass. Under such leaders as Oliver P. Morton and his Whig and Know-Nothing associates, Republicanism simply meant opposition to the latest outrage of slavery, and acquiescence in all preceding ones; but this shameful surrender of the cause to its enemies was deservedly condemned in the election which followed. The Legislature of the State, however, at its ensuing session, overwhelmingly endorsed the Douglas dogma, and even the better class of Republican papers urged the abandonment of the Republican creed. But, very fortunately for the cause, the Republicans of Illinois could not be persuaded to take Mr. Douglas into their embrace on the score of a single worthy act, and forget, if not forgive, his long career of effective and untiring hostility to the principles they cherished; and his nomination by the Democrats, on a platform very offensive to Republicans, fully justified their course. The result was the nomination of Mr. Lincoln as a candidate for the succession to Mr. Douglas, and the great joint debate which did so much to educate the mind of the free States and prepare the way for Mr. Lincoln's nomination the following year, while revealing the moral unworthiness of his great rival, and justifying the policy which made necessary this memorable contest in Illinois.

The steady march of the Republican party toward ascendancy was shown in the Thirty-sixth Congress, which met in December, 1859. There were now twenty-four Republican senators, and one hundred and nine representatives. Early in the first session of this Congress an interesting debate occurred in the Senate on a proposition to provide for the education of the colored children of the District of Columbia. Mr. Mason condemned the proposition, and said it was wise to prohibit the education of the colored race. Jefferson Davis declared that the Government was not made for them, and that "we have no right to tax our people to educate the barbarians of Africa." These and kindred utterances were very well calculated to aid the work of anti-slavery progress. John Brown's raid into Virginia kindled the ire of the slave-holders to a degree as yet unprecedented, and although his act found few defenders in the Northern States, the heroism with which he met his fate, the pithy correspondence between Gov. Wise and Mrs. Child, the language of Southern senators in dealing with the subject, and the efforts made to ferret out Brown's associates, all tended to strengthen the growing hostility to slavery and prepare the way for the final conflict. The designs of the slaveholders upon Cuba, which were avowed in this Congress, and their purpose to acquire it for the extension of slavery, by purchase if they could, but if not by war, served the same purpose. The growing demand for the revival of the African slave trade, as shown by the avowals of leading men in both houses of Congress, and their cold-blooded utterances on the subject, produced a profound impression on the country, and called forth the startling fact that the city of New York was then one of the greatest slave-trading marts in the world, and that from thirty to sixty thousand persons a year were taken from Africa to Cuba by vessels from that single port. Such facts as these, and that the laws of the Union for the suppression of the traffic were not only a dead letter but that the slave masters and their allies sullenly refused to take any steps whatever for the remedy of this organized inhumanity, were capital arguments for the Republicans, which they employed with telling effect. The refusal to admit Oregon as a State without a constitutional provision excluding people of color, the rejection of Kansas on her application with a Constitution fairly adopted by her people, and the great speech of Sumner on "The Barbarism of Slavery," which this last application called forth, all served their purpose in the growth of anti-slavery opinion. So did the attempt to divide California for the purpose of introducing slavery into the southern portion; the veto of an Act of the Territorial Legislature of Kansas abolishing slavery, and of a similar act in Nebraska; the acts of several Southern States permitting free colored persons to sell themselves as slaves if they chose to do so in preference to expulsion from the land of their birth and their homes; the decision of the courts of Virginia that slaves had no social or civil rights, and no legal capacity to choose between being emancipated or sold as slaves; the refusal of the Government to give a passport to a colored physician of Massachusetts, for the reason that such privileges were never conferred upon persons of color; and the revolutionary sentiments uttered by governors and legislatures of various Southern States, some of which declared that the election of a Republican President would be sufficient cause for withdrawal from the Union. That these were important aids to the progress of freedom was shown by the passage of laws in various Northern States for the protection of personal liberty, forbidding the use of local jails for the detention of persons claimed as fugitive slaves, and securing for them the right of trial by jury and the benefit of the writ of habeas corpus. This healthy reaction was still further shown in wholesome judicial decisions in several Northern States affirming the citizenship of negroes, and denying the right of transit of slave-holders with their slaves over their soil.

The struggle for the Speakership in this Congress, which lasted eight weeks, was also a first-rate training school for Republicanism. Helper's famous book, "The Impending Crisis," had made a decided sensation throughout the country, and John Sherman, the principal candidate of the Republicans for Speaker, had endorsed it, though he now denied the fact. Mr. Millson of Virginia, declared that the man who "consciously, deliberately, and of purpose, lends his name and influence to the propagation of such writings, is not only not fit to be Speaker, but he is not fit to live." De Jarnette, of the same State, said that Mr. Seward was "a perjured traitor, whom no Southerner could consistently support or even obey, should the nation elect him President." Mr. Pryor said that eight million Southern freemen could not be subjugated by any combination whatever, "least of all by a miscellaneous mob of crazy fanatics and conscience- stricken traitors." Mr. Keitt said that "should the Republican party succeed in the next Presidential election, my advice to the South is to snap the cords of the Union at once and forever." Mr. Crawford of Georgia said, "we will never submit to the inauguration of a black Republican President"; and these and like utterances were applauded by the galleries. The growing madness and desperation in the Senate were equally noteworthy. This was shown by the removal of Mr. Douglas from the chairmanship of the Committee on Territories, and the determined purpose to read him out of the party for refusing to violate the principle of popular sovereignty in the Territory of Kansas. The attempt to hunt down a man who had done the South such signal service in dragooning the Northern Democracy into its support could not fail to divide the party, and at the same time completely unmask the extreme and startling designs which the slave power had been stealthily maturing. But that power was now absolutely bent upon its purpose, and morally incapable of pausing in its work. Its demand was a slave code for the Territories, and it would accept nothing less. Jefferson Davis was the champion of this policy, which he embodied in a series of resolutions and made them the text of an elaborate argument; and Mr. Douglas replied in a speech which at once vindicated himself and overwhelmingly condemned the party with which he had so long acted. The resolutions, however, were adopted by the Senate, which thus proclaimed its purpose to nationalize slavery.

In the meantime these remarkable legislative proceedings had their counterpart in increasing lawlessness and violence throughout the South. This was illustrated in such facts as the expulsion of members of the Methodist Church North from Texas, the imprisonment of Rev. Daniel Worth, in North Carolina, for circulating Helper's "Impending Crisis"; the exile from Kentucky of the Rev. John G. Fee and his colony of peaceable and law-abiding people, on account of their anti-slavery opinions; and the espionage of the mails by every Southern postmaster, who under local laws had the power to condemn and "burn publicly" whatever he deemed unfit for circulation, which laws had been pronounced constitutional by Caleb Cushing, while Attorney General of the United States under Mr. Pierce, and were "cheerfully acquiesced in" by Judge Holt, Postmaster General under Buchanan. In Virginia the spirit of lawlessness became such a rage that one of her leading newspapers offered a reward of fifty thousand dollars for the head of Wm. H. Seward, while another paper offered ten thousand dollars for the kidnapping and delivery in Richmond of Joshua R. Giddings, or five thousand dollars for his head. In short, the reign of barbarism was at last fully ushered in, and the whole nation was beginning to realize the truth of Mr. Lincoln's declaration, which he borrowed from St. Mark, that "a house divided against itself can not stand." The people of the free States were at school, with the slaveholders as their masters; and the dullest scholars were now beginning to get their lessons. Even the Know-Nothings and Silver-Grey Whigs were coming up to the anxious seat, under the enlightening influence and saving-grace of slaveholding madness and crime. The hour was ripe for action, and the dawn of freedom in the South was seen in the coming emancipation of the North.

The Presidential Campaign of 1860 was a very singular commentary on the Compromise measures of 1850 and the "finality" platforms of 1852. The sectional agitation which now stirred the country outstripped all precedent, and completely demonstrated the folly of all schemes of compromise. The Democratic National Convention met in the city of Charleston on the twenty-third day of May. Its action now seems astounding, although it was the inevitable result of antecedent facts. The Democratic party had the control of every department of the Government, and a formidable popular majority behind it. It had the complete command of its own fortunes, and there was no cause or even excuse for the division which threatened its life. The difference between the Southern Democrats and the followers of Douglas was purely metaphysical, eluding entirely the practical common sense of the people. Both wings of the party now stood committed to the Dred Scott decision, and that surrendered everything which the extreme men of the South demanded. It was "a quarrel about goats' wool," and yet the Southern Democrats were maddened at the thought of submitting to the nomination of Douglas for the Presidency. His sin in the Lecompton affair was counted unpardonable, and they seemed to hate him even more intensely than they hated the Abolitionists. A committee on resolutions was appointed, which submitted majority and minority, or Douglas and anti-Douglas, reports. These were hotly debated, but the Douglas platform was adopted, which led to the secession of the Southern delegates. On the fifty-seventh ballot Mr. Douglas received a clear majority of the Electoral College, but the Convention then adjourned till the eighteenth of June, in the hope that harmony might in some way be restored. On reassembling this was found impossible, and the balloting was resumed, which finally gave Mr. Douglas all the votes cast but thirteen, and he was declared the Democratic nominee. The Convention then nominated for the Vice Presidency Herschel V. Johnson, of Georgia, a disciple of Calhoun, whose extreme opinions were well known. He was unequivocally committed to the doctrine that neither the General Government nor a Territorial Government can impair the right of slave property in the common Territories. This illustration of the political profligacy of the Douglas managers, and burlesque upon popular sovereignty, was as remarkable as the madness of the seceders in fighting him for his supposed anti-slavery prejudices. The bolters from this convention afterward nominated John C. Breckenridge as their candidate for President and Joseph Lane for Vice President. The Democratic canvass was thus inaugurated, and the overthrow of the party provided for in the mere wantonness of political folly.

On the ninth of May what was called the Constitutional Union Party held its convention at Baltimore, and nominated John Bell for President and Edward Everett for Vice President. It adopted no platform, and owing to its neutrality of tint, its action had no significance aside from its possible effect on the result of the struggle between the Democrats and Republicans.

The Republican National Convention met at Chicago on the sixteenth of May. It was attended by immense numbers, and its action was regarded with profound and universal solicitude. The platform of the Convention affirmed the devotion of the party to the union of the States and the rights of the States; denounced the new dogma that the Constitution carried slavery into the Territories; declared freedom to be their normal condition; denied the power of Congress or of a Territorial Legislature to give legal existence to slavery in any territory; branded as a crime the reopening of the African slave trade; condemned the heresy of Know-Nothingism, and demanded the passage of a Homestead law. The principles of the party were thus broadly stated and fully re-affirmed, and the issues of the canvass very clearly presented. The leading candidates were Seward and Lincoln, who pretty evenly divided the Convention, and thus created the liveliest interest in the result. The friends of Mr. Seward had unbounded confidence in his nomination, and their devotion to his fortunes was intense and absolute. The radical anti-slavery element in the party idolized him, and longed for his success as for a great and coveted national blessing. The delegates from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois, representing a superficial and only half-developed Republicanism, labored with untiring and exhaustless zeal for the nomination of Mr. Lincoln, fervently pleading for "Success rather than Seward." Henry S. Lane and Andrew G. Curtin, then candidates for Governor in the States of Indiana and Pennsylvania, respectively, were especially active and persistent, and their appeals were undoubtedly effective. When Seward was defeated many an anti-slavery man poured out his tears over the result, while deploring or denouncing the conservatism of old fossil Whiggery, which thus sacrificed the ablest man in the party, and the real hero of its principles. Time, however, led these men to reconsider their estimate both of Seward and Lincoln, and convinced them that the action of the convention, after all, was for the best. On the second ballot Hamlin was nominated for Vice President over Clay, Banks, Hickman, and others, and the Republican campaign thus auspiciously inaugurated.

The canvass for Douglas was prosecuted with remarkable energy and zeal. He was himself the great leader of his party on the stump, and his efforts evinced singular courage, audacity, and will. It soon became evident, however, that his election was impossible; but this did not cool his ardor or relax his efforts. He kept up the fight to the end; and after his defeat, and when he saw the power that had destroyed him organizing its forces for the destruction of the Union, he espoused the side of his country, and never faltered in his course. But as to slavery he seemed to have no conscience, regarding it as a matter of total moral indifference, and thus completely confounding the distinction between right and wrong. During the closing hours of his life he probably saw and lamented this strange infatuation; and he must, at all events, have deplored the obsequious and studied devotion of a life-time to the service of a power which at last demanded both the sacrifice of his country and himself. The canvass for Lincoln was conducted by the ablest men in the party, and was marked by great earnestness and enthusiasm. It was a repetition of the Fremont campaign, with the added difference of a little more contrivance and spectacular display in its demonstrations, as witnessed in the famous organization known as the "Wide-Awakes." The doctrines of the Chicago platform were very thoroughly discussed, and powerfully contributed to the further political education of the people. The speeches of Mr. Seward were singularly able, effective and inspiring, and he was the acknowledged leader of his party and the idol of the Republican masses everywhere. This was the day of his glory, and nothing yet foreshadowed the political eclipse which awaited him in the near future. The triumph of the Republicans in this struggle was not, however, final. A great work yet remained to be done. A powerful anti-slavery party had at last appeared, as the slow creation of events and the fruit of patient toil and endeavor; but it had against it a popular majority of nearly a million. Both Houses of Congress and the Supreme Court of the United States disputed its authority and opposed its advance. The President-elect could not form his cabinet without the leave of the Senate, which was controlled by slavery, nor could he set the machinery of his Administration in motion, at home or abroad, through the exercise of his appointing power, without the consent of his political opponents. As Mr. Seward declared in the Senate, "he could not appoint a minister or even a police agent, negotiate a treaty or procure the passage of a law, and could hardly draw a musket from the public arsenal to defend his own person." The champions of slavery had no dream of surrender, and no excuse whatever for extreme measures; and with moderate counsels and the prudent economy of their advantages, they were the undoubted masters of their own fortunes for indefinite years to come. But their extravagant and exasperating demands, and the splendid madness of their latter day tactics as illustrated in their warfare against Douglas, were the sure presages of their overthrow. There was method in their madness, but it was the method of self-destruction. This was made still more strikingly manifest during the months immediately preceding the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln. The Republicans, notwithstanding their great victory, so recoiled from the thought of sectional strife that for the sake of peace they were ready to forego their demand for the Congressional prohibition of slavery in the Territories. They were willing to abide by the Dred Scott decision and the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave law. They even proposed a Constitutional amendment which would have made slavery perpetual in the Republic; but the pampered frenzy of the slave oligarchy defied all remedies, and hurried it headlong into the bloody conspiracy which was to close forever its career of besotted lawlessness and crime.

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—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.

Early in January, 1861, I paid a visit to Mr. Lincoln at his home in Springfield. I had a curiosity to see the famous "rail splitter," as he was then familiarly called, and as a member-elect of the Thirty-seventh Congress I desired to form some acquaintance with the man who was to play so conspicuous a part in the impending national crisis. Although I had zealously supported him in the canvass, and was strongly impressed by the grasp of thought and aptness of expression which marked his great debate with Douglas, yet as a through-going Free Soiler and a member of the radical wing of Republicanism, my prepossessions were against him. He was a Kentuckian, and a conservative Whig, who had supported General Taylor in 1848, and General Scott four years later, when the Whig party finally sacrificed both its character and its life on the altar of slavery. His nomination, moreover, had been secured through the diplomacy of conservative Republicans, whose morbid dread of "abolitionism" unfitted them, as I believed, for leadership in the battle with slavery which had now become inevitable, while the defeat of Mr. Seward had been to me a severe disappointment and a real personal grief. The rumor was also current, and generally credited, that Simon Cameron and Caleb B. Smith were to be made Cabinet Ministers, in recognition of the important services rendered by the friends of these gentlemen in the Chicago Convention. Still, I did not wish to do Mr. Lincoln the slightest injustice, while I hoped and believed his courage and firmness would prove equal to the emergency.

On meeting him I found him far better looking than the campaign pictures had represented. His face, when lighted up in conversation, was not unhandsome, and the kindly and winning tones of his voice pleaded for him like the smile which played about his rugged features. He was full of anecdote and humor, and readily found his way to the hearts of those who enjoyed a welcome to his fireside. His face, however, was sometimes marked by that touching expression of sadness which became so generally noticeable in the following years. On the subject of slavery I was gratified to find him less reserved and more emphatic than I expected. The Cabinet rumor referred to was true. He felt bound by the pledges which his leading friends had made in his name pending the National Convention; and the policy on which he acted in these and many other appointments was forcibly illustrated on a subsequent occasion, when I earnestly protested against the appointment of an incompetent and unworthy man as Commissioner of Patents. "There is much force in what you say," said he, "but, in the balancing of matters, I guess I shall have to appoint him." This "balancing of matters" was a source of infinite vexation during his administration, as it has been to every one of his successors; and its most deplorable results have been witnessed in the assassination of a president. Upon the whole, however, I was much pleased with our first Republican Executive, and I returned home more fully inspired than ever with the purpose to sustain him to the utmost in facing the duties of his great office.

The closing months of Mr. Buchanan's Administration were dismal and full of apprehension. One by one the slaveholding States were seceding from the Union. The President, in repeated messages, denied their right to secede, but denied also the right of the Government to coerce them into obedience. It should be remembered, to his credit, that he did insist upon the right to enforce the execution of the laws in all the States, and earnestly urged upon Congress the duty of arming him with the power to do this; but Congress, much to its discredit, paid no attention to his wishes, leaving the new Administration wholly unprepared for the impending emergency, while strangely upbraiding the retiring President for his non-action. For this there could be no valid excuse. The people of the Northern States, now that the movement in the South was seen to be something more than mere bluster, were equally alarmed and bewildered. The "New York Herald" declared that "coercion, if it were possible, is out of the question." The "Albany Argus" condemned it as "madness." The "Albany Evening Journal" and many other leading organs of Republicanism, East and West, disowned it, and counseled conciliation and further concessions to the demands of slavery. The "New York Tribune" emphatically condemned the policy of coercion, and even after the cotton States had formed their Confederacy and adopted a provisional Government, it declared that "whenever it shall be clear that the great body of the Southern people have become conclusively alienated from the Union and anxious to escape from it, we will do our best to forward their views." The "Tribune" had before declared that "whenever a considerable section of our Union shall deliberately resolve to go out, we shall resist all coercive measures designed to keep it in. We hope never to live in a Republic whereof one section is pinned to the other by bayonets." It is true, that it justified the secession of the Southern States as a revolutionary right; but although these States defended it as a constitutional one, the broader and higher ground of Mr. Greeley necessarily gave powerful aid and comfort to their movement. In the meantime, great meetings in Philadelphia and New York strongly condemned the Abolitionists, and urged the most extravagant additional concessions to slavery for the sake of peace. On the 12th of January Mr. Seward made his great speech in the Senate, declaring that he could "afford to meet prejudice with conciliation, exaction with concession which surrenders no principle, and violence with the right hand of peace." He was willing to give up Congressional prohibition of slavery in the Territories, enforce the Fugitive Slave law, and perpetuate slavery in our Republic by amending the Constitution for that purpose. The Crittenden compromise, which practically surrendered everything to slavery, only failed in the Senate by one vote, and this failure resulted from the non-voting of six rebel senators, who were so perfectly devil-bent upon the work of national dismemberment that they would not listen to any terms of compromise, or permit their adoption. The Peace Congress, assembled for the purpose of devising some means of national pacification, agreed upon a series of measures covering substantially the same ground as the Crittenden compromise, while both Houses of Congress agreed to a constitutional amendment denying any power to interfere with slavery "until every State in the Union, by its individual State action, shall consent to its exercise." The feverish dread of war which prevailed throughout the Northern States was constantly aggravated by multiplying evidences of slaveholding desperation. The general direction of public opinion pointed to the Abolitionists as the authors of these national troubles, while the innocent and greatly-abused slaveholders were to be petted and placated by any measures which could possibly serve their purpose. Indeed, the spirit of Northern submission had never, in the entire history of the anti-slavery conflict, been more strikingly exhibited than during the last days of the Thirty- sixth Congress, when the Capital of the Republic was threatened by armed treason, and the President-elect reached Washington in a disguise which baffled the assassins who had conspired against his life. To the very last the old medicine of compromise and conciliation seemed to be the sovereign hope of the people of the free States; and although it had failed utterly, and every offer of friendship and peace had been promptly spurned as the evidence of weakness or cowardice, they clung to it till the guns of Fort Sumter roused them from their perilous dream.

The inauguration of the President was awaited with great anxiety and alarm. The capture of Washington by the rebels was seriously apprehended, and had undoubtedly been meditated. The air was filled with rumors respecting the assassination of the President, and the stories told of the various methods of his taking off would have been amusing if the crisis had not been so serious. General Scott took all the precautions for the preservation of the peace which the small force at his command, and the District militia, enabled him to do. The day was beautiful, and the procession to the Capitol quite imposing. Mr. Lincoln and ex-President Buchanan entered the Senate chamber arm in arm; and the latter was so withered and bowed with age that in contrast with the towering form of Mr. Lincoln he seemed little more than half a man. The crowd which greeted the President in front of the east portico of the Capitol was immense, and has never been equaled on any similar occasion with the single exception of General Garfield's inauguration. Mr. Lincoln's voice, though not very strong or full-toned, rang out over the acres of people before him with surprising distinctness, and was heard in the remotest parts of his audience. The tone of moderation, tenderness, and good-will, which marked his address, made an evident impression, and the most heartfelt plaudits were called forth by the closing passage:

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break, our bonds of affection. The mystic cords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of union, when again touched, as they surely will be, by the better angels of their nature."

But as an offering of friendship and fair dealing to the South, this speech failed of its purpose as signally as all kindred endeavors had done from the beginning. The "Richmond Enquirer" and "Whig," the "Charleston Mercury," and other leading organs of secession, denounced the inaugural, and seemed to be maddened by the very kindliness of its tone and the moderation of its demands. Their purpose was disunion and war, and every passing day multiplied the proofs that no honorable escape from this fearful alternative was possible.

The policy of the new Administration prior to the attack upon Sumter forms perhaps the most remarkable chapter in the history of the war. All the troubles of the previous Administration were now turned over to Mr. Lincoln, and while no measures had been provided to aid him in their settlement the crisis was constantly becoming more imminent. The country was perfectly at sea; and while all hope of reconciliation was fading from day to day, Mr. Seward insisted that peace would come within "sixty days." His optimism would have been most amusing, if the salvation of the country had not been at stake. The President himself not only still hoped, but believed, that there would be no war; and notwithstanding all the abuse that had been heaped upon Mr. Buchanan by the Republicans for his feeble and vacillating course, and especially his denial of the right of the government to coerce the recusant States, the policy of the new Administration, up to the attack upon Sumter, was identical with that of his predecessor. In Mr. Seward's official letter to Mr. Adams, dated April 10, 1861, he says the President "would not be disposed to reject a cardinal dogma of theirs (the secessionists), namely, that the Federal Government could not reduce the seceding States to obedience through conquest, even though he were disposed to question that proposition. But in fact the President willingly accepts it as true. Only and imperial and despotic Government could subjugate thoroughly disaffected and insurrectionary members of the State. * * * The President, on the one hand, will not suffer the Federal authority to fall into abeyance, nor will he, on the other hand, aggravate existing evils by attempts at coercion, which must assume the direct form of war against any of the revolutionary States." These are very remarkable avowals, in the light of the absolute unavoidableness of the conflict at the time they were made; and they naturally tended to precipitate rather than avert the threatened catastrophe. It will not do to say that Secretary Seward spoke only for himself, and not for the Administration; for the fact has since been established by the evidence of other members of the Cabinet that Mr. Lincoln, while he had great faith in Mr. Seward at first, was always himself the President. No member of it was his dictator. I do not say that he endorsed all Mr. Seward's peculiar views, for the latter went still further, as the country has since learned, and favored the abandonment of Fort Sumter and other Southern forts, as a part of a scheme of pacification looking to an amendment to the Constitution in the interest of slavery. During this early period Mr. Chase himself, with all his anti-slavery radicalism and devotion to the Union, became so far the child of the hour as to deprecate the policy of coercion and express his belief that if the rebel States were allowed to go in peace they would soon return. But "war legislates," and the time had now come when nothing else could break the spell of irresolution and blindness which threatened the Union even more seriously than armed treason itself.

Notwithstanding this strange epoch of Republican feebleness and indecision, the warfare against Mr. Buchanan was never intermitted. It had been prosecuted with constantly increasing vigor since the year 1856, and had now become so perfectly relentless and overwhelming that he was totally submerged by the waves of popular wrath; and for twenty odd years no political resurrection has been thought possible. Although his personal integrity was as unquestionable as that of John C. Calhoun or George III, and his private life as stainless, yet his public character has received no quarter from his enemies and but little defense from his friends. One of his most formidable critics, writing long years after the war, describes him as "hungry for regard, influence, and honor, but too diminutive in intellect and character to feel the glow of true ambition—a man made, so to speak, to be neither loved nor hated, esteemed nor despised, slighted nor admired; intended to play an influential part in the agitation of parties, and by history to be silently numbered with the dead, because in all his doings there was not a single deed; a man to whom fate could do nothing worse than place him at the helm in an eventful period." While there is a measure of truth in this picture, I believe any fair-minded man will pronounce it over-drawn, one-sided, and unjust, after reading the recently published life of Mr. Buchanan by George Ticknor Curtis, dealing fully with his entire public career in the clear, cold light of historic facts. The most pronounced political foe of Mr. Buchanan can not go over the pages of this elaborate and long-delayed defense without modifying some of his most decided opinions; but one thing remains obviously true, and that is in dealing with the question of slavery Mr. Buchanan was wholly without a conscience. The thought seems never to have dawned upon him that the slave was a man, and therefore entitled to his natural rights. In a public speech on the ninth of July, 1860, defining his position, and referring to the Dred Scott decision, he says: "It is to me the most extraordinary thing in the world that this country should now be distracted and divided because certain persons at the North will not agree that their brethren at the South should have the same rights in the Territories which they enjoy. What would I, as a Pennsylvanian, say or do, supposing any one was to contend that the Legislature of any Territory could outlaw iron or coal within the Territory? The principle is precisely the same. The Supreme Court of the United States has decided, what was known to us all to have been the existing state of affairs for fifty years, that slaves are property. Admit that fact, and you admit everything."

In this passage, as in all that he has written on the subject of slavery, humanity is totally ignored. The right of property in man is just as sacred to him, "as a Pennsylvanian," as the right of property in iron or coal. He unhesitatingly accepts the Dred Scott decision as law, which the moral sense of the nation and its ablest jurists pronounced a nullity. Mr. Jefferson, in speaking of slavery, said he trembled for his country, and declared that one hour of bondage is fraught with more misery than whole ages of our colonial oppression. Such a sentiment in the mouth of Mr. Buchanan would have been as unnatural as a voice from the dead. He saw nothing morally offensive in slavery, or repugnant to the principles of Democracy. He reverenced the Constitution, but always forgot that its compromises were agreed to in the belief that the institution was in a state of decay, and would soon wear out its life under the pressure of public opinion and private interest. Throughout his public life he never faltered in his devotion to the South, joining hands with alacrity in every measure which sought to nationalize her sectional interest. The growing anti-slavery opinion of the free States, which no power could prevent, and the great moral currents of the times, which were as resistless as the tides of the sea, had no meaning for him, because the Democracy he believed in had no foundation in the sacredness of human rights.

Mr. Lincoln, in spite of the troubled state of the country, was obliged to encounter an army of place-seekers at the very beginning of his administration. I think there has been nothing like it in the history of the Government. A Republican member of Congress could form some idea of the President's troubles from his own experience. I fled from my home in the later part of February, in the hope of finding some relief from these importunities; but on reaching Washington I found the business greatly aggravated. The pressure was so great and constant that I could scarcely find time for my meals, or to cross the street, and I was obliged to give my days and nights wholly to the business, hoping in this way I should be able in a while to finish it; but it constantly increased. I met at every turn a swarm of miscellaneous people, many of them looking as hungry and fierce as wolves, and ready to pounce upon members as they passed, begging for personal intercession, letters of recommendation, etc. During my stay in Washington through the months of March and April, there was no pause in this business. After Fort Sumter had been taken and the armory at Harper's Ferry had been burned; after a Massachusetts regiment had been fired on in passing through Baltimore, and thirty thousand men were in Washington for defensive purposes; after the President had called for seventy-five thousand volunteers, and the whole land was in a blaze of excitement, the scuffle for place was unabated, and the pressure upon the strength and patience of the President unrelieved. This was not very remarkable, considering the long-continued monopoly of the offices by the Democrats; but it jarred upon the sentiment of patriotism in such a crisis, and to those who were constantly brought face to face with it, it sometimes appeared as if the love of office alone constituted the animating principle of the party.

When Congress assembled in special session on the Fourth of July, the atmosphere of the Northern States had been greatly purified by the attack on Fort Sumter. The unavoidableness of war was now absolute, and the tone of the President's message was far bolder and better than that of his inaugural. The policy of tenderness towards slavery, however, still revealed itself, and called forth the criticism of the more radical Republicans. They began to distrust Mr. Seward, who no longer seemed to them the hero of principle they had so long idolized, while his growing indifference to the virtue of temperance was offensive to many. He impressed his old anti-slavery friends as a deeply disappointed man, who was in danger of being morally lost. Their faith was even a little shaken in Secretary Chase. Of course, they did not believe him false to his long-cherished anti-slavery convictions, but he was amazingly ambitious, and in the dispensation of his patronage he seemed anxious to make fair weather with some of his old conservative foes, while apparently forgetting the faithful friends who had stood by him from the very beginning of his career, and were considered eminently fit for the positions they sought. The rumor was afloat that even Charles Sumner was urging the claims of Mr. Crittenden to a place on the Supreme Bench, as a means of conciliating the State of Kentucky. Washington was largely a city of secessionists, and the departments of the Government were plentifully supplied by sympathizers with treason, while the effort put forth at this session to dislodge them was not responded to by the Administration. What became known as the Border State policy was beginning to assert itself everywhere, and was strikingly illustrated in the capture of fugitive slaves and their return to their rebel masters by our commanding generals, and by reiterated and gratuitous disavowals of "abolitionism" by prominent Republicans.

But the war spirit was fully aroused, and active preparations were on foot for an advance upon the enemy. The confidence in General Scott seemed to be unbounded, and I found everybody taking it for granted that when the fight began our forces would prove triumphantly victorious. On the day before the battle of Bull Run I obtained a pass from General Scott, intending to witness the engagement, believing I could do so, of course, with perfect safety, as our army would undoubtedly triumph. I had a very strong curiosity to see a great battle, and was now gratified with the prospect of doing so; but a lucky accident detained me. The battle was on Sunday, and about eleven o'clock at night I was roused from my slumber by Col. Forney, who resided on Capitol Hill near my lodgings, and who told me our army had been routed, and that the rebels were marching upon the capital and would in all probability capture it before morning. No unmiraculous event could have been more startling. I was perfectly stunned and dumbfounded by the news; but I hastened down to the Avenue as rapidly as possible, and found the space between the Capitol and the Treasury Building a moving mass of humanity. Every man seemed to be asking every man he met for the latest news, while all sorts of rumors filled the air. A feeling of mingled horror and despair appeared to possess everybody. The event was so totally unlooked for, and the disappointment so terrible, that people grew suddenly sick at heart, and felt as if life itself, with all its interests and charms, had been snatched from their grasp. The excitement, turmoil and consternation continued during the night and through the following day; but no one could adequately picture or describe it. Our soldiers came straggling into the city, covered with dirt and many of them wounded, while the panic which led to the disaster spread like a contagion through all classes.

On the day following this battle Congress met as usual, and undoubtedly shared largely in the general feeling. A little before the battle General Mansfield had issued an order declaring that fugitive slaves would under no circumstances whatever be permitted to reside or be harbored in the quarters and camps of the troops serving in his department; and now, both Houses of Congress promptly and with great unanimity and studious emphasis declared that the purpose of the war was not the "conquest" or "subjugation" of the conspirators who were striking at the Nation's life, or the overthrow of their "established institutions," but to defend "the supremacy of the Constitution," and to "preserve the Union"; and that "as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease." To through-going anti-slavery men this seemed like an apology for the war, and a most ill-timed revival of the policy of conciliation, which had been so uniformly and contemptuously spurned by the enemy. It failed utterly of its purpose, and this historic resolve of Congress was only useful to the rebels, who never failed to wield it as a weapon against us, after the teaching of events had compelled us to make slavery the point of attack. The Confiscation Act of the 6th of August was regarded as a child of the same sickly ancestry. The section of the Act making free the slaves employed against us by the rebels in their military operations was criticised as a bribe to them to fight us, rather than a temptation to espouse our cause. If they engaged in the war at all, they were obliged to do so as our enemies; but if they remained at home on their plantations in the business of feeding the rebel armies, they would have the protection of both the loyal and Confederate Governments. The policy of both parties to the struggle was thus subordinated to the protection of slavery.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse