In the general crusade against liberty churches proved more pliable than States. The authority of nearly all the leading denominations was directed against the abolitionists. The General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church passed in 1836 a resolution censuring two of their members who had lectured in favor of modern abolitionism. The Ohio Conference of the same denomination had passed resolutions urging resistance to the anti-slavery movement. In June, 1836, the New York Conference decided that no one should be chosen as deacon or elder who did not give pledge that he would refrain from agitating the church on the subject.
The same spirit appeared in theological seminaries. The trustees of Lane Seminary, near Cincinnati, Ohio, voted that students should not organize or be members of anti-slavery societies or hold meetings or lecture or speak on the subject. Whereupon the students left in a body, and many of the professors withdrew and united with others in the founding of an anti-slavery college at Oberlin.
A persistent attack was also directed against the use of the United States mails for the distribution of anti-slavery literature. Mob violence which involved the post-office began as early as 1830, when printed copies of Miss Grimke's Appeal to the Christian Women of the South were seized and burned in Charleston. In 1835 large quantities of anti-slavery literature were removed from the Charleston office and in the presence of the assembled citizens committed to the flames. Postmasters on their own motion examined the mails and refused to deliver any matter that they deemed incendiary. Amos Kendall, Postmaster-General, was requested to issue an order authorizing such conduct. He replied that he had no legal authority to issue such an order. Yet he would not recommend the delivery of such papers. "We owe," said he, "an obligation to the laws, but a higher one to the communities in which we live, and if the former be perverted to destroy the latter, it is patriotism to disregard them. Entertaining these views, I cannot sanction, and will not condemn, the step you have taken." This is an early instance of the appeal to the "higher law" in the pro-slavery controversy. The higher law was invoked against the freedom of the press. The New York postmaster sought to dissuade the Anti-slavery Society from the attempt to send its publications through the mails into Southern States. In reply to a request for authorization to refuse to accept such publications, the Postmaster-General replied: "I am deterred from giving an order to exclude the whole series of abolition publications from the Southern mails only by a want of legal power, and if I were situated as you are, I would do as you have done."
Mr. Kendall's letters to the postmasters of Charleston and New York were written in July and August, 1835. In December of the same year, presumably with full knowledge that a member of his Cabinet was encouraging violations of law in the interest of slavery, President Jackson undertook to supply the need of legal authorization. In his annual message he made a savage attack upon the abolitionists and recommended to Congress the "passing of such a law as will prohibit, under severe penalties, the circulation in the Southern States, through the mail, of incendiary publications."
This part of the President's message was referred to a select committee, of which John C. Calhoun was chairman. The chairman's report was against the adoption of the President's recommendation because a subject of such vital interest to the States ought not to be left to Congress. The admission of the right of Congress to decide what is incendiary, asserted the report, carries with it the power to decide what is not incendiary and hence Congress might authorize and enforce the circulation of abolition literature through the mails in all the States. The States should themselves severally decide what in their judgment is incendiary, and then it would become the duty of the general Government to give effect to such state laws. The bill recommended was in harmony with this view. It was made illegal for any deputy postmaster "to deliver to any person whatsoever, any pamphlet, newspaper, handbill, or other printed paper, or pictorial representation touching the subject of slavery, where by the laws of the said State, territory, or district their circulation is prohibited." The bill was defeated in the Senate by a small margin. Altogether there was an enlightening debate on the whole subject. The exposure of the abuse of tampering with the mail created a general reaction, which enabled the abolitionists to win a spectacular victory. Instead of a law forbidding the circulation of anti-slavery publications, Congress enacted a law requiring postal officials under heavy penalties to deliver without discrimination all matter committed to their charge. This act was signed by President Jackson, and Calhoun himself was induced to admit that the purposes of the abolitionists were not violent and revolutionary. Henceforth abolitionists enjoyed their full privileges in the use of the United States mail. An even more dramatic victory was thrust upon the abolitionists by the inordinate violence of their opponents in their attack upon the right of petition. John Quincy Adams, who became their distinguished champion, was not himself an abolitionist. When, as a member of the lower House of Congress in 1831, he presented petitions from certain citizens of Pennsylvania, presumably Quakers, requesting Congress to abolish slavery and the slave-trade in the District of Columbia, he refused to countenance their prayer, and expressed the wish that the memorial might be referred without debate. At the very time when a New England ex-President was thus advising abolitionists to desist from sending petitions to Congress, the Virginia Legislature was engaged in the memorable debate upon a similar petition from Virginia Quakers, in which most radical abolition sentiment was expressed by actual slaveowners. Adams continued to present anti-slavery memorials and at the same time to express his opposition to the demands of the petitioners. When in 1835 there arose a decided opposition to the reception of such documents, Adams, still in apparent sympathy with the pro-slavery South on the main issue, gave wise counsel on the method of dealing with petitions. They should be received, said he, and referred to a committee; because the right of petition is sacred. This, he maintained, was the best way to avoid disturbing debate on the subject of slavery. He quoted his own previous experience; he had made known his opposition to the purposes of the petitioners; their memorials were duly referred to a committee and there they slept the sleep of death. At that time only one voice had been raised in the House in support of the abolition petitioners, that of John Dickson of New York, who had delivered a speech of two hours in length advocating their cause; but not a voice was raised in reply. Mr. Adams mentioned this incident with approval. The way to forestall disturbing debate in Congress, he said, was scrupulously to concede all constitutional rights and then simply to refrain from speaking on the subject.
This sound advice was not followed. For several months a considerable part of the time of the House was occupied with the question of handling abolition petitions. And finally, in May, 1836, the following resolution passed the House: "Resolved, That all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions, or papers relating in any way or to any extent whatever to the subject of slavery or the abolition of slavery, shall, without being either printed or referred, be laid on the table, and that no further action whatever shall be had thereon." This is commonly known as the "gag resolution." During four successive years it was reenacted in one form or another and was not repealed by direct vote until 1844.
When the name of Mr. Adams was called in the vote upon the passage of the above resolution, instead of answering in the ordinary way, he said: "I hold the resolution to be a direct violation of the Constitution of the United States, of the rules of this House, and of the rights of my constituents." This was the beginning of the duel between the "old man eloquent" and a determined majority in the House of Representatives. Adams developed undreamed-of resources as a debater and parliamentarian. He made it his special business to break down the barrier against the right of petition. Abolitionists cooperated with zeal in the effort. Their champion was abundantly supplied with petitions. The gag resolution was designed to prevent all debate on the subject of slavery. Its effect in the hands of the shrewd parliamentarian was to foment debate. On one occasion, with great apparent innocence, after presenting the usual abolition petitions, Adams called the attention of the Speaker to one which purported to be signed by twenty-two slaves and asked whether such a petition should be presented to the House, since he was himself in doubt as to the rules applicable in such a case. This led to a furious outbreak in the House which lasted for three days. Adams was threatened with censure at the bar of the House, with expulsion, with the grand jury, with the penitentiary; and it is believed that only his great age and national repute shielded him from personal violence. After numerous passionate speeches had been delivered, Adams injected a few important corrections into the debate. He reminded the House that he had not presented a petition purporting to emanate from slaves; on the contrary, he had expressly declined to present it until the Speaker had decided whether a petition from slaves was covered by the rule. Moreover, the petition was not against slavery but in favor of slavery. He was then charged with the crime of trifling with the sensibilities of the House; and finally the champion of the right of petition took the floor in his own defense. His language cut to the quick. His calumniators were made to feel the force of his biting sarcasm. They were convicted of injustice, and all their resolutions of censure were withdrawn. The victory was complete.
After the year 1838 John Quincy Adams had the effective support of Joshua R. Giddings from the Western Reserve, Ohio—who also fought a pitched battle of his own which illustrates another phase of the crusade against liberty. The ship Creole had sailed from Baltimore to New Orleans in 1841 with a cargo of slaves. The negroes mutinied on the high seas, slew one man, gained possession of the vessel, sailed to Nassau, and were there set free by the British Government. Prolonged diplomatic negotiations followed in which our Government held that, as slaves were property in the United States, they continued to be such on the high seas. In the midst of the controversy, Giddings introduced a resolution into the House, declaring that slavery, being an abridgment of liberty, could exist only under local rules, and that on the high seas there can be no slavery. For this act Giddings was arraigned and censured by the House. He at once resigned, but was reelected with instructions to continue the fight for freedom of debate in the House.
In the campaign against the rights of freemen mob violence was first employed, but in the South the weapon of repressive legislation was soon substituted, and this was powerfully supplemented by social and religious ostracism. Except in a few districts in the border States, these measures were successful. Public profession of abolitionism was suppressed. The violence of the mob was of much longer duration in the North and reached its height in the years 1834 and 1835. But Northern mobs only quickened the zeal of the abolitionists and made converts to their cause. The attempt to substitute repressive state legislation had the same effect, and the use of church authority for making an end of the agitation for human liberty was only temporarily influential.
As early as 1838 the Presbyterian Church was divided over questions of doctrine into Old School and New School Presbyterians. This served to forestall the impending division on the slavery question. The Old School in the South became pro-slavery and the New School in the North became anti-slavery. At the same time the Methodist Church of the entire country was beset by a division on the main question. In 1844 Southern Methodist Episcopalian conferences resolved upon separation and committed themselves to the defense of slavery. The division in the Methodist Church was completed in 1846. A corresponding division took place in the Baptist Church in 1845. The controversy was dividing the country into a free North and an enslaved South, and Southern white men as well as negroes were threatened with subjection to the demands of the dominant institution.
CHAPTER VI. THE SLAVERY ISSUE IN POLITICS
Some who opposed mob violence became active abolitionists; others were led to defend the rights of abolitionists because to do otherwise would encourage anarchy and general disorder. The same was true of those who defended the right of petition and the free use of the mails and the entire list of the fundamental rights of freemen which were threatened by the crusade against abolitionists. Birney's contention that unless the slave is freed no one can be free was thus vindicated: the issue involved vastly more than the mere emancipation of slaves.
The attack made in defense of slavery upon the rights of freemen was early recognized as involving civil war unless peaceable emancipation could be attained. So soon as John Quincy Adams faced the new spirit in Congress, he was convinced that it meant probable war. As early as May, 1836, he warned the South, saying: "From the instant that your slaveholding States become the theater of war, civil, servile, or foreign, from that moment the war powers of the Constitution extend to interference with the institution of slavery." This sentiment he reiterated and amplified on various occasions. The South was duly warned that an attempt to disrupt the Union would involve a war of which emancipation would be one of the consequences. With the exception of Garrison and a few of his personal followers, abolitionists were unionists: they stood for the perpetual union of the States.
This is not the place to give an extended account of the Mexican War. * There are, however, certain incidents connected with the annexation of Texas and the resulting war which profoundly affected the crusade against slavery. Both Lundy and Birney in their missions to promote emancipation through the process of colonization believed that they had unearthed a plan on the part of Southern leaders to acquire territory from Mexico for the purpose of extending slavery. This discovery coincided with the suppression of abolition propaganda in the South. Hitherto John Quincy Adams had favored the western expansion of our territory. He had labored diligently to make the Rio Grande the western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase at the time of the treaty with Spain in 1819. But though in 1825 he had supported a measure to purchase Texas from Mexico, under the new conditions he threw himself heartily against the annexation of Texas, and in 1838 he defeated in the House of Representatives a resolution favoring annexation. To this end Adams occupied the morning hour of the House each day from the 16th of June to the 7th of July, within two days of the time fixed for adjournment. This was only a beginning of his fight against the extension of slavery. There was no relenting in his opposition to pro-slavery demands until he was stricken down with paralysis in the streets of Boston, in November, 1846. He never again addressed a public assembly. But he continued to occupy his seat in Congress until February 23, 1848.
* See "Texas and the Mexican War" (in "The Chronicles of America").
The debate inaugurated in Congress by Adams and others over the extension of slave territory rapidly spread to the country at large, and interest in the question became general. Abolitionists were thereby greatly stimulated to put into practice their professed duty of seeking to accomplish their ends by political action. Their first effort was to secure recognition in the regular parties. The Democrats answered in their platform of 1840 by a plank specifically denouncing the abolitionists, and the Whigs proved either noncommittal or unfriendly. The result was that abolitionists organized a party of their own in 1840 and nominated James G. Birney for the Presidency. Both of the older parties during this campaign evaded the issue of the annexation of Texas. In 1844 the Whigs again refrained from giving in their platform any official utterance on the Texas issue, though they were understood to be opposed to annexation. The Democrats adroitly asserted in their platform their approval of the re-annexation of Texas and reoccupation of Oregon. There was a shadowy prior claim to both these regions, and by combining them in this way the party avoided any odious partiality towards the acquisition of slave territory. But the voters in both parties had become interested in the specific question whether the country was to enter upon a war of conquest whose primary object should be the extension of slavery. In the North it became generally understood that a vote for Henry Clay, the Whig candidate, was an expression of opposition to annexation. This issue, however, was not made clear in the South. In the absence of telegraph and daily paper it was quite possible to maintain contradictory positions in different sections of the country. But since the Democrats everywhere openly favored annexation, the election of their candidate, James K. Polk, was generally accepted as a popular approval of the annexation of Texas. Indeed, action immediately followed the election and, before the President-elect had been inaugurated, the joint resolution for the annexation of Texas passed both Houses of Congress.
The popular vote was almost equally divided between Whigs and Democrats. Had the vote for Birney, who was again the candidate of the Liberty party, been cast for Clay electors, Clay would have been chosen President. The Birney vote was over sixty-two thousand. The Liberty party, therefore, held the balance of power and determined the result of the election.
The Liberty party has often been censured for defeating the Whigs at this election of 1844. But many incidents, too early forgotten by historians, go far to justify the course of the leaders. Birney and Clay were at one time members of the same party. They were personal friends, and as slave holders they shared the view that slavery was a menace to the country and ought to be abolished. It was just fourteen years before this election that Birney made a visit to Clay to induce him to accept the leadership of an organized movement to abolish slavery in Kentucky. Three years later, when Birney returned to Kentucky to do himself what Henry Clay had refused to do, he became convinced that the reaction which had taken place in favor of slavery was largely due to Clay's influence. This was a common impression among active abolitionists. It is not strange, therefore, that they refused to support him as a candidate for the Presidency, and it is not at all certain that his election in 1844 would have prevented the war with Mexico.
Northern Whigs accused the Democrats of fomenting a war with Mexico with the intention of gaining territory for the purpose of extending slavery. Democrats denied that the annexation of Texas would lead to war, and many of them proclaimed their opposition to the farther extension of slavery. In harmony with this sentiment, when President Polk asked for a grant of two million dollars to aid in making a treaty with Mexico, they attached to the bill granting the amount a proviso to the effect that slavery should forever be prohibited in any territory which might be obtained from Mexico by the contemplated treaty. The proviso was written by an Ohio Democrat and was introduced in the House by David A. Wilmot, a Pennsylvania Democrat, after whom it is known. It passed the House by a fair majority with the support of both Whigs and Democrats. At the time of the original introduction in August, 1846, the Senate did not vote upon the measure. Davis of Massachusetts moved its adoption but inadvertently prolonged his speech in its favor until the hour for adjournment. Hence there was no vote on the subject. Subsequently the proviso in a new form again passed the House but failed of adoption in the Senate.
During the war the Wilmot Proviso was the subject of frequent debate in Congress and of continuous debate throughout the country until the treaty with Mexico was signed in 1848. A vast territory had been acquired as a result of the war, and no decision had been reached as to whether it should remain free or be opened to settlement by slave-owners. Another presidential election was at hand. For fully ten years there had been ever-increasing excitement over the question of the limitation or the extension of slavery. This had clearly become the topic of supreme interest throughout the country, and yet the two leading parties avoided the issue. Their own membership was divided. Northern Democrats, many of them, were decidedly opposed to slavery extension. Southern Whigs with equal intensity favored the extension of slavery into the new territory. The platforms of the two parties were silent on the subject. The Whigs nominated Taylor, a Southern general who had never voted their party ticket, but they made no formal declaration of principles. The Democrats repeated with colorless additions their platforms of 1840 anti 1844 and sought to win the election with a Northern man, Lewis Cass of Michigan, as candidate.
There was, therefore, a clear field for a party having fully defined views to express on a topic of commanding interest. The cleavage in the Democratic party already begun by the debate over the Wilmot Proviso was farther promoted by a factional division of New York Democrats. Martin Van Buren became the leader of the liberal faction, the "Barnburners," who nominated him for President at a convention at Utica. The spirit of independence now seized disaffected Whigs and Democrats everywhere in the North and Northwest. Men of anti-slavery proclivities held nonpartizan meetings and conventions. The movement finally culminated in the famous Buffalo convention which gave birth to the Freesoil party. The delegates of all political persuasions united on the one principle of opposition to slavery. They adopted a ringing platform closing with the words: "Resolved, That we inscribe on our banner 'Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men,' and under it will fight on, and fight ever, until a triumphant victory shall reward our exertions." They accepted Van Buren as their candidate. The vote at the ensuing election was more than fourfold that given to Birney in 1844. The Van Buren supporters held the balance of power between Whigs and Democrats in twelve States. Taylor was elected by the vote of New York, which except for the division in the party would have gone to Cass. There was no longer any doubt of the fact that a political force had arisen which could no longer be ignored by the ruling parties. One of the parties must either support the new issue or give place to a party which would do so.
A political party for the defense of liberty was the fulfillment of the aspirations of all earnest anti-slavery men and of all abolitionists not of the radical Garrisonian persuasion. The national anti-slavery societies were for the most part limited in their operations to the Atlantic seaboard. The West organized local and state associations with little reference to the national association. When the disruption occurred between Garrison and his opponents in 1840, the Western abolitionists continued their former methods of local organization. They recognized no divisions in their ranks and continued to work in harmony with all who in any way opposed the institution of slavery. The political party was their first really effective national organization. Through party committees, caucuses, and conventions, they became a part of the forces that controlled the nation. The older local clubs and associations were either displaced by the party or became mere adjuncts to the party.
The lines for political action were now clearly defined. In the States emancipation should be accomplished by state action. With a few individual exceptions the leaders conceded that Congress had no power to abolish slavery in the States. Upon the general Government they urged the duty of abolishing both slavery and the slave-trade in the District of Columbia and in all areas under direct federal control. They further urged upon the Government the strict enforcement of the laws prohibiting the foreign slave-trade and the enactment of laws forbidding the interstate slave-trade. The constitutionality of these main lines of action has been generally conceded.
Abolitionists were pioneers in the formulation of political platforms. The declaration of principles drawn up by Garrison in 1833 and adopted by the American Anti-Slavery Society was of the nature of a political platform. The duty of voting in furtherance of the policy of emancipation was inculcated. No platform was adopted for the first political campaign, that of 1840; but four years later there was an elaborate party platform of twenty-one resolutions. Many things had happened in the eleven years intervening since the declaration of principles of the American Anti-Slavery Society. In the earlier platform the freedom of the slave appears as the primary object. That of the Liberty party assumes the broad principle of human brotherhood as the foundation for a democracy or a republic. It denies that the party is organized merely to free the slave. Slaveholding as the grossest form of despotism must indeed be attacked first, but the aim of the party is to carry the principle of equal rights into all social relations. It is not a sectional party nor a party organized for a single purpose. "It is not a new party, nor a third party, but it is the party of 1776, reviving the principles of that memorable era, and striving to carry them into practical application." The spirit of '76 rings, indeed, throughout the document, which declares that it was understood at the time of the Declaration and the Constitution that the existence of slavery was in derogation of the principles of American liberty. The implied faith of the Nation and the States was pledged to remove this stain upon the national character. Some States had nobly fulfilled that pledge; others shamelessly had neglected to do so.
These principles are reasserted in succeeding platforms. The later opponents of slavery in their principles and policies thus allied themselves with the founders of the republic. They claimed the right to continue to repeat the words of Washington and Jefferson and those of the members of the Virginia Legislature of 1832. No new doctrines were required. It was enough simply to reaffirm the fundamental principles of democracy.
The names attached to the party are significant. It was at first popularly styled the Abolition party, then officially in turn the Liberty party, the Freesoil party, and finally the Republican party. Republican was the name first applied to the Democratic party—the party of Jefferson. The term Democrat was gradually substituted under the leadership of Jackson before 1830. Some of the men who participated in the organization of the later Republican party had themselves been Republicans in the party of Jefferson. They not only accepted the name which Jefferson gave to his party, but they adopted the principles which Jefferson proclaimed on the subject of slavery, free soil, and human rights in general. This was the final stage in the identification of the later anti-slavery crusade with the earlier contest for liberty.
CHAPTER VII. THE PASSING OF THE WHIG PARTY
The middle of the last century was marked by many incidents which have left a permanent impress upon politics in general and upon the slavery question in particular. Europe was again in the throes of popular uprisings. New constitutions were adopted in France, Switzerland, Prussia, and Austria. Reactions in favor of autocracy in Austria and Germany sent multitudes of lovers of liberty to America. Kossuth, the Hungarian revolutionist, electrified American audiences by his appeals on behalf of the downtrodden in Europe. Already the world was growing smaller. America did not stop at the Pacific but crossed the ocean to establish permanent political and commercial relations with Japan and China.
The industries of the country were being reorganized to meet new conditions created by recent inventions. The electric telegraph was just coming into use, giving rise to a new era in communication. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 was followed by competing projects to construct railroads to the Pacific with Chicago and St. Louis as the rival eastern terminals. The telegraph, the railway, and the resulting industrial development proved great nationalizing influences. They served also to give increased emphasis to the contrast between the industries of the free and those of the slave States. The Census of 1850 became an effective anti-slavery argument.
The telegraph also gave new life to the public press. The presidential campaign of 1848 was the last one in which it was possible to carry on contradictory arguments in support of the same candidate. If slavery could not endure the test of untrammeled discussion when there were no means of rapid intercommunication such as the telegraph supplied, how could it contend against the revelations of the daily press with the new type of reporter and interviewer which was now developed?
It is a remarkable coincidence that in the midst of the passing of the old and the coming in of the new order there should be a change in the political leadership of the country. Webster, Clay, Calhoun, John Quincy Adams, not to mention others, all died near the middle of the century, and their political power passed to younger men. Adams gave his blessing to a young friend and co-laborer, William H. Seward of New York, intimating that he expected him to do much to curb the threatening power of the slaveholding oligarchy; while Andrew Jackson, who died earlier, had already conferred a like distinction upon young Stephen A. Douglas. There was no lack of aspirants for the fallen mantles.
John C. Calhoun continued almost to the day of his death to modify his interpretation of the Constitution in the interest of his section. As a young man he avowed protectionist principles. Becoming convinced that slave labor was not suited to manufacture, he urged South Carolina to declare the protective tariff laws null and void within her limits. When his section seemed endangered by the distribution of anti-slavery literature through the mail, he extemporized a theory that each State had a right to pass statutes to protect itself in such an emergency, in which case it became the duty of the general Government and of all other States to respect such laws. When it finally appeared that the territory acquired from Mexico was likely to remain free, the same statesman made further discoveries. He found that Congress had no right to exclude slavery from any Territory belonging to the United States; that the owners of slaves had equal rights with the owners of other property; that neither Congress nor a territorial authority had any power to exclude slaves from a Territory. This doctrine was accepted by extremists in the South and was finally embodied in the Dred Scott decision of 1857.
Abolitionists had meantime evolved a precisely contradictory theory. They asserted that the Constitution gave no warrant for property in man, except as held under state laws; that with this exception freedom was guaranteed to all; that Congress had no more right to make a slave than it had to make a king; and that it was the duty of Congress to maintain freedom in all the Territories. Extremists expressed the view that all past acts whereby slavery had been extended were unconstitutional and therefore void. Between these extreme conflicting views was every imaginable grade of opinion. The prevailing view of opponents of slavery, however, was in harmony with their past conduct and maintained that Congress had complete control over slavery in the Territories.
When the Mexican territory was acquired, Stephen A. Douglas, as the experienced chairman of the Committee on Territories in the Senate, was already developing a theory respecting slavery in the Territories which was destined to play a leading part in the later crusade against slavery. Douglas was the most thoroughgoing of expansionists and would acknowledge no northern boundary on this side of the North Pole, no southern boundary nearer than Panama. He regarded the United States, with its great principle of local autonomy, as fitted to become eventually the United States of the whole world, while he held it to be an immediate duty to make it the United States of North America. As the son-in-law of a Southern planter in North Carolina, and as the father of sons who inherited slave property, Douglas, although born in Vermont, knew the South as did no other Northern statesman. He knew also the institution of slavery at first hand. As a pronounced expansionist and as the congressional leader in all matters pertaining to the Territories, he acquired detailed information as to the qualities of these new possessions, and he spoke, therefore, with a good degree of authority when he said, "If there was one inch of territory in the whole of our acquisitions from Mexico where slavery could exist, it was in the valleys of the Sacramento and the San Joaquin." But this region was at once preempted for freedom upon the discovery of gold.
Douglas did not admit that even the whole of Texas would remain dedicated to slavery. Some of the States to be formed from it would be free, by the same laws of climate and resources which determined that the entire West would remain free. Before the Mexican War the Senator had become convinced that the extension of slavery had reached its limit; that the Missouri Compromise was a dead letter except as a psychological palliative; that Nature had already ordained that slave labor should be forever excluded from all Western territory both north and south of that line. His reply to Calhoun's contention that a balance must be maintained between slave and free States was that he had plans for forming seventeen new States out of the vast Western domains, every one of which would be free. And besides, said he, "we all look forward with confidence to the time when Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri, and probably North Carolina and Tennessee will adopt a gradual system of emancipation." Douglas was one of the first to favor the admission of California as a free State. According to the Missouri Compromise law and the laws of Mexico, all Western territory was free, and he was opposed to interference with existing conditions. The Missouri Compromise was still held sacred. Finally, however, it was with Douglas's assistance that the Compromise measures of 1850 were passed, one of which provided for territorial Governments for Utah and New Mexico with the proviso that, when admitted as States, slavery should be permitted or prohibited as the citizens of those States should determine at the time. Congress refrained from any declaration as to slavery in the Territories. It was this policy of "non-intervention" which four years later furnished plausible excuse for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise.
It was not strange that there was general ignorance in all parts of the country as to the resources of the newly acquired territory. The rush to the goldfields precipitated action in respect to California. Before General Taylor, the newly elected President, was inaugurated, there was imminent need of an efficient government. An early act of the Administration was to send an agent to assist in the formation of a state Government, and a convention was immediately called to frame a constitution. By unanimous vote of the convention, slavery was excluded. The constitution was approved by popular vote and was presented to Congress for final acceptance in December, 1849.
In the meantime a great commotion had arisen among the people. Southern state legislatures passed resolutions demanding that the rights of their peculiar institution should be recognized in the new Territory. Northern legislatures responded with resolutions favoring the admission of California as a State and the application of the Wilmot Proviso to the remaining territory. Northern Democrats had very generally denied that the affair with Mexico had as a chief purpose the extension of slavery. Democrats therefore united with Whigs in maintaining the principle of free soil. In the South there was a corresponding fusion of the two parties in support of the sectional issue.
General concern prevailed as to the attitude of the Administration. Taylor's election had been effected by both a Southern and a Northern split in the Democratic party. Northern Democrats had voted for the Free-soil candidate because of the alleged pro-slavery tendencies of their own party. Southern Democrats voted for Taylor because of their distrust of Lewis Cass, their own candidate. Some of these met in convention and formally nominated Taylor, and Taylor accepted their nomination with thanks. Northern anti-slavery Whigs had a difficult task to keep their members in line. There is evidence that Taylor held the traditional Southern view that the anti-slavery North was disposed to encroach upon the rights of the South. Meeting fewer Northern Whig supporters, he became convinced that the more active spirit of encroachment was in the pro-slavery South. California needed a state Government, and the President took the most direct method to supply that need. As the inhabitants were unanimous in their desire to exclude slavery, their wish should be respected. New Mexico was in a similar situation. As slavery was already excluded from the territory under Mexican law, and as there was no wish on the part of the inhabitants to introduce slavery, the President recognized existing facts and made no change. When Southern leaders projected a scheme to enlarge the boundaries of Texas so as to extend slavery over a large part of New Mexico, President Taylor set a guard of United States troops to maintain the integrity of the Territory. When a deputation of Southern Whigs endeavored to dissuade him from his purpose, threatening a dissolution of the Union and intimating that army officers would refuse to act against citizens of Texas, the soldier President replied that in such an event he would take command in person and would hang any one caught in acts of treason. When Henry Clay introduced an elaborate project for a compromise between the North and the South, the President insisted that each question should be settled on its own merits and directed the forces of the Administration against any sort of compromise. The debate over Clay's Omnibus Bill was long and acrimonious. On July 4, 1850, the President seemed triumphant. But upon that day, notwithstanding his apparent robust health, he was stricken down with an acute disease and died five days later. With his passing, the opposing Whig faction came into power. The so-called compromise measures were at length one by one passed by Congress and approved by President Fillmore.
California was admitted as a free State; but as a palliative to the South, Congress passed bills for the organization of territorial Governments for New Mexico and Utah without positive declarations regarding the powers of the territorial Legislatures over slavery. All questions relating to title to slaves were to be left to the courts. Meantime it was left in doubt whether Mexican law excluding slavery was still in force. Southern malcontents maintained that this act was a mere hoax, using words which suggested concession when no concession was intended. Northern anti-slavery men criticized the act as the entering wedge for another great surrender to the enemy. Because of the uncertainty regarding the meaning of the law and the false hopes likely to be created, they maintained that it was fitted to foment discord and prolong the period of distrust between the two sections. At all events such was its actual effect.
A third act in this unhappy series gave to Texas ten millions of dollars for the alleged surrender of claims to a part of New Mexico. This had little bearing on the general subject of compromise; yet anti-slavery men criticized it on the ground that the issue raised was insincere; that the appropriation was in fact a bribe to secure votes necessary to pass the other measures; that the bill was passed through Congress by shameless bribery, and that even the boundaries conceded to Texas involved the surrender of free territory.
The abolition of the slave-trade in the District of Columbia was supported by both sections of the country. The removal of the slave pens within sight of the Capitol to a neighboring city deprived the abolitionists of one of their weapons for effective agitation, but it did not otherwise affect the position of slavery.
Of the five acts included in the compromise measures, the one which provided for the return of fugitive slaves was most effective in the promotion of hostility between the two sections. During the six months of debate on the Omnibus Bill, numerous bills were presented to take the place of the law of 1793. Webster brought forward a bill which provided for the use of a jury to establish the validity of a claim to an escaped slave. But that which was finally adopted by a worn-out Congress is characterized as one of the most barbarous pieces of legislation ever enacted by a civilized country. A single incident may indicate the nature of the act. James Hamlet, for three years a resident of New York City, a husband and a father and a member of the Methodist Church, was seized eight days after the law went into effect by order of the agent of Mary Brown of Baltimore, cut off from all communication with his friends, hurried before a commissioner, and on ex parte testimony was delivered into the hands of the agent, by whom he was handcuffed and secretly conveyed to Baltimore. Mr. Rhodes accounts for the enactment in the following words: "If we look below the surface we shall find a strong impelling motive of the Southern clamor for this harsh enactment other than the natural desire to recover lost property. Early in the session it took air that a part of the game of the disunionists was to press a stringent fugitive slave law, for which no Northern man could vote; and when it was defeated, the North would be charged with refusal to carry out a stipulation of the Constitution.... The admission of California was a bitter pill for the Southern ultras, but they were forced to take it. The Fugitive Slave Law was a taunt and a reproach to that part of the North where the anti-slavery sentiment ruled supremely, and was deemed a partial compensation." Clay expressed surprise that States from which few slaves escaped demanded a more stringent law than Kentucky, from which many escaped.
Whatever may have been the motives leading to the enactment, its immediate effect was the elimination of one of the great national parties, thus paving the way for the formation of parties along sectional lines. Two years after the passage of the compromise acts the Democratic national convention assembled to nominate a candidate for the Presidency. The platform adopted by the party promised a faithful execution of the acts known as the compromise measures and added "the act for reclaiming fugitives from service or labor included; which act, being designed to carry out an express provision of the Constitution, cannot, with fidelity thereto, be repealed nor so changed as to destroy or impair its efficiency." When this was read, the convention broke out in uproarious applause. Then there was a demand that it should be read again. Again there was loud applause.
Why was there this demand that a law which every one knew had proved a complete failure should be made a permanent part of the Constitution? And why the ungovernable hilarity over the demand that its "efficiency" should never be impaired? Surely the motive was something other than a desire to recover lost property. Upon the Whig party had been fastened the odium for the enactment of the law, and the act unrepealed meant the death of the party. The Democrats saw good reason for laughter.
CHAPTER VIII. THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
Wherever there are slaves there are fugitives if there is an available place of refuge. The wilds of Florida were such a refuge during the early part of last century. When the Northern States became free, fugitive slaves began to escape thither, and Canada, when it could be reached, was, of course, the goal of perfect security and liberty for all.
A professed object of the early anti-slavery societies was to prevent the enslavement of free negroes and in other ways to protect their rights. During the process of emancipation in Northern States large numbers of colored persons were spirited off to the South and sold into slavery. At various places along the border there were those who made it their duty to guard the rights of negroes and to prevent kidnapping. These guardians of the border furnished a nucleus for the development of what was later known as the Underground Railroad.
In 1796 President Washington wrote a letter to a friend in New Hampshire with reference to obtaining the return of a negro servant. He was careful to state that the servant should remain unmolested rather than "excite a mob or riot or even uneasy sensations in the minds of well disposed citizens." The result was that the servant remained free. President Washington here assumed that "well disposed citizens" would oppose her return to slavery. Three years earlier the President had himself signed a bill to facilitate by legal process the return of fugitives escaping into other States. He was certainly aware that such an act was on the statute books when he wrote his request to his friend in New Hampshire, yet he expected that, if an attempt were made to remove the refugee by force, riot and resistance by a mob would be the result.
Not until after the foreign slave-trade had been prohibited and the domestic trade had been developed, and not until there was a pro-slavery reaction in the South which banished from the slave States all anti-slavery propaganda, did the systematic assistance rendered to fugitive slaves assume any large proportions or arouse bitter resentment. It began in the late twenties and early thirties of the nineteenth century, extended with the spread of anti-slavery organization, and was greatly encouraged and stimulated by the enactment of the law of 1850.
The Underground Railroad was never coextensive with the abolition movement. There were always abolitionists who disapproved the practice of assisting fugitives, and others who took no part in it. Of those who were active participants, the larger proportion confined their activities to assisting those who had escaped and would take no part in seeking to induce slaves to leave their masters. Efforts of that kind were limited to a few individuals only.
Incidents drawn from the reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the reputed president of the Underground Railroad, may serve to illustrate the origin and growth of the system. He was seven years old when he first saw near his home in North Carolina a coffle of slaves being driven to the Southern market by a man on horseback with a long whip. "The driver was some distance behind with the wagon. My father addressed the slaves pleasantly and then asked, 'Well, boys, why do they chain you?' One of the men whose countenance betrayed unusual intelligence and whose expression denoted the deepest sadness replied: 'They have taken us from our wives and children and they chain us lest we should make our escape and go back to them."' When Coffin was fifteen, he rendered assistance to a man in bondage. Having an opportunity to talk with the members of a gang in the hands of a trader bound for the Southern market, he learned that one of the company, named Stephen, was a freeman who had been kidnapped and sold. Letters were written to Northern friends of Stephen who confirmed his assertion. Money was raised in the Quaker meeting and men were sent to recover the negro. Stephen was found in Georgia and after six months was liberated.
During the year 1821 other incidents occurred in the Quaker community at New Garden, near Greensboro, North Carolina, which illustrate different phases of the subject. Jack Barnes was the slave of a bachelor who became so greatly attached to his servant that he bequeathed to him not only his freedom but also a large share of his property. Relatives instituted measures to break the will, and Jack in alarm took refuge among the Quakers at New Garden. The suit went against the negro, and the newspapers contained advertisements offering a hundred dollars for information which should result in his recovery. To prevent his return to bondage, it was decided that Jack should join a family of Coffins who were moving to Indiana.
At the same time a negro by the name of Sam had for several months been abiding in the Quaker neighborhood. He belonged to a Mr. Osborne, a prototype of Simon Legree, who was so notoriously cruel that other slave-owners assisted in protecting his victims. After the Coffins, with Jack, had been on the road for a few days, Osborne learned that a negro was with them and, feeling sure that it was his Sam, he started in hot haste after them. This becoming known to the Friends, young Levi Coffin was sent after Osborne to forestall disaster. The descriptions given of Jack and Sam were practically identical and it was surmised that when Osborne should overtake the party and discover his mistake, he would seize Jack for the sake of the offered reward. Coffin soon came up with Osborne and decided to ride with him for a time to learn his plans. In the course of their conversation, it was finally agreed that Coffin should assist in the recovery of Sam. Osborne was also generous and insisted that if it proved to be the other "nigger" who was with the company, Coffin should have half the reward. How the young Quaker outwitted the tyrant, gained his point, sent Jack on his way to liberty, and at the same time retained the confidence of Osborne so that upon their return home he was definitely engaged to assist Osborne in finding Sam, is a fascinating story. The abolitionist won from the slaveholder the doubtful compliment that "there was not a man in that neighborhood worth a d—n to help him hunt his negro except young Levi Coffin."
Sam was perfectly safe so long as Levi Coffin was guide for the hunting-party, but matters were becoming desperate. For the fugitive something had to be done. Another family was planning to move to Indiana, and in their wagon Sam was to be concealed and thus conveyed to a free State. The business had now become serious. The laws of the State affixed the death penalty for stealing a slave. At night when young Coffin and his father, with Sam, were on their way to complete arrangements for the departure, horsemen appeared in the road near by. They had only time to throw themselves flat on the ground behind a log. From the conversation overheard, they were assured that they had narrowly escaped the night-riders on the lookout for stray negroes. The next year, 1822, Coffin himself joined a party going to Indiana by the southern route through Tennessee and Kentucky. In the latter State they were at one time overtaken by men who professed to be looking for a pet dog, but whose real purpose was to recover runaway slaves. They insisted upon examining the contents of the wagons, for in this way only a short time previous a fugitive had been captured.
These incidents show the origin of the system. The first case of assistance rendered a negro was not in itself illegal, but was intended merely to prevent the crime of kidnapping. The second was illegal in form, but the aid was given to one who, having been set free by will, was being reenslaved, it was believed, by an unjust decision of a court. The third was a case of outrageous abuse on the part of the owner. The negro Sam had himself gone to a trader begging that he would buy him and preferring to take his chances on a Mississippi plantation rather than return to his master. The trader offered the customary price and was met with the reply that he could have the rascal if he would wait until after the enraged owner had taken his revenge, otherwise the price would be twice the amount offered. A large proportion of the fugitives belonged to this maltreated class. Others were goaded to escape by the prospect of deportation to the Gulf States. The fugitives generally followed the beaten line of travel to the North and West.
In 1826 Levi Coffin became a merchant in Newport, Indiana, a town near the Ohio line not far from Richmond. In the town and in its neighborhood lived a large number of free negroes who were the descendants of former slaves whom North Carolina Quakers had set free and had colonized in the new country. Coffin found that these blacks were accustomed to assist fugitives on their way to Canada. When he also learnt that some had been captured and returned to bondage merely through lack of skill on the part of the negroes, he assumed active operations as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
Coffin used the Underground Railroad as a means of making converts to the cause. One who berated him for negro-stealing was adroitly induced to meet a newly arrived passenger and listen to his pathetic story. At the psychological moment the objector was skillfully led to hand the fugitive a dollar to assist him in reaching a place of safety. Coffin then explained to this benevolent non-abolitionist the nature of his act, assuring him that he was liable to heavy damages therefor. The reply was in this case more forcible than elegant: "Damn it! You've got me!" This conversion he publicly proclaimed for the sake of its influence upon others. Many were the instances in which those of supposed pro-slavery convictions were brought face to face with an actual case of the threatened reenslavement of a human being escaping from bondage and were, to their own surprise, overcome by the natural, humane sentiment which asserted itself. For example, a Cincinnati merchant, who at the time was supposed to be assisting one of his Southern customers to recover an escaped fugitive, was confronted at his own home by the poor half-starved victim. Yielding to the impulse of compassion, he gave the slave food and personal assistance and directed the destitute creature to a place of refuge.
The division in the Quaker meeting in Indiana with which Levi Coffin was intimately associated may serve to exemplify a corresponding attitude in other churches on the question of slavery. The Quakers availed themselves of the first great anti-slavery movement to rid themselves completely of the burden. Their Society itself became an anti-slavery organization. Yet even so the Friends had differences of opinion as to fit methods of action. Not only did many of them disapprove of rendering aid to fugitives but they also objected to the use of the meetinghouses for anti-slavery lectures. The formation of the Liberty party served to accentuate the division. The great body of the Friends were anti-slavery Whigs.
A crisis in the affairs of the Society of Friends in the State of Indiana was reached in 1843 when the radicals seceded and organized an independent "Anti-Slavery Friends Society." Immediately there appeared in numerous localities duplicate Friends' meeting-houses. In and around one of these, distinguished as "Liberty Hall," were gathered those whose supreme religious interest was directed against the sin of slavery. Never was there a church division which involved less bad blood or sense of injury or injustice. Members of the same family attended separate churches without the least difference in their cordial relations. No important principle was involved; there were apparently good reasons for both lines of policy, and each party understood and respected the other's position. After the adoption of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and the passing of the Whig party, these differences disappeared, the separate organization was disbanded, and all Friends' meetinghouses became "liberty halls."
The disposition to aid the fugitive was by no means confined to the North nor to Quakers in the South. Richard Dillingham, a young Quaker who had yielded to the solicitations of escaped fugitives in Cincinnati and had undertaken a mission to Nashville, Tennessee, to rescue their relatives from a "hard master," was arrested with three stolen slaves on his hands. He made confession in open court and frankly explained his motives. The Nashville Daily Gazette of April 13, 1849, has words of commendation for the prisoner and his family and states that "he was not without the sympathy of those who attended the trial." Though Dillingham committed a crime to which the death penalty was attached in some of the States, the jury affixed the minimum penalty of three years' imprisonment for the offense. As Nashville was far removed from Quaker influence or any sort of anti-slavery propaganda, Dillingham was himself astonished and was profoundly grateful for the leniency shown him by Court, jury, and prosecutors. This incident occurred in the year before the adoption of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. It is well known that in all times and places which were free from partizan bitterness there was a general natural sympathy for those who imperiled their life and liberty to free the slave. Throughout the South men of both races were ready to give aid to slaves seeking to escape from dangers or burdens which they regarded as intolerable. While such a man as Frederick Douglass, when still a slave, was an agent of the Underground Railroad, Southern anti-slavery people themselves were to a large extent the original projectors of the movement. Even members of the families of slaveholders have been known to assist fugitives in their escape to the North.
The fugitives traveled in various ways which were determined partly by geographical conditions and partly by the character of the inhabitants of a region. On the Atlantic coast, from Florida to Delaware, slaves were concealed in ships and were thus conveyed to free States. Thence some made their way towards Canada by steamboat or railroad, though most made the journey on foot or, less frequently, in private conveyances. Stalwart slaves sometimes walked from the Gulf States to the free States, traveling chiefly by night and guided by the North Star. Having reached a free State, they found friends among those of their own race, or were taken in hand by officers of the Underground Railroad and were thus helped across the Canadian border.
From the seacoast the valley of the Connecticut River furnished a convenient route for completing the journey northward, though the way of the fugitives was often deflected to the Lake Champlain region. In later years, when New England became generally sympathetic, numerous lines of escape traversed that entire section. Other courses extended northward from the vicinity of Philadelphia, Delaware, and Maryland. Here, through the center of American Quakerdom, all conditions favored the escape of fugitives, for slavery and freedom were at close quarters. The activities of the Quakers, who were at first engaged merely in preventing the reenslavement of those who had a legal right to freedom, naturally expanded until aid was given without reservation to any fugitive. From Philadelphia as a distributing point the route went by way of New York and the Hudson River or up the river valleys of eastern Pennsylvania through western New York.
In addition to the routes to freedom which the seacoast and river valleys afforded, the Appalachian chain of mountains formed an attractive highway of escape from slavery, though these mountain paths lead us to another branch of our subject not immediately connected with the Underground Railroad—the escape from bondage by the initiative of the slaves themselves or by the aid of their own people. Mountains have always been a refuge and a defense for the outlaw, and the few dwellers in this almost unknown wilderness were not infrequently either indifferent or friendly to the fugitives. The escaped slaves might, if they chose, adopt for an indefinite time the free life of the hills; but in most cases they naturally drifted northward for greater security until they found themselves in a free State. Through the mountainous regions of Virginia many thus escaped, and they were induced to remain there by the example and advice of residents of their own color. The negroes themselves excelled all others in furnishing places of refuge to fugitives from slavery and in concealing their status. For this reason John Brown and his associates were influenced to select this region for their great venture in 1859.
But there were other than geographical conditions which helped to determine the direction of the lines of the Underground Railroad. West of the Alleghanies are the broad plains of the Mississippi Valley, and in this great region human elements rather than physical characteristics proved influential. Northern Ohio was occupied by settlers from the East, many of whom were anti-slavery. Southern Ohio was populated largely by Quakers and other people from the slave States who abhorred slavery. On the east and south the State bordered on slave territory, and every part of the region was traversed by lines of travel for the slave. In eastern and northern Indiana a favorable attitude prevailed. Southwestern Indiana, however, and southern Illinois were occupied by those less friendly to the slave, so that in these sections there is little evidence of systematic aid to fugitives. But with St. Louis, Missouri, as a starting-point, northern Illinois became honeycombed with refuges for patrons of the Underground Railroad. The negro also found friends in all the settled portions of Iowa, and at the outbreak of the Civil War a lively traffic was being developed, extending from Lawrence, Kansas, to Keokuk, Iowa.
There is respectable authority for a variety of opinions as to the requirements of the rendition clause in the Constitution and of the Act of Congress of 1793 to facilitate the return of fugitives from service or labor; but there is no respectable authority in support of the view that neither the spirit nor the letter of the law was violated by the supporters of the Underground Railroad. This was a source of real weakness to anti-slavery leaders in politics. It was always true that only a small minority of their numbers were actual violators of the law, yet such was their relation to the organized anti-slavery movement that responsibility attached to all. The platform of the Liberty party for 1844 declared that the provisions of the Constitution for reclaiming fugitive slaves were dangerous to liberty and ought to be abrogated. It further declared that the members of the party would treat these provisions as void, because they involved an order to commit an immoral act. The platform thus explicitly committed the party to the support of the policy of rendering aid to fugitive slaves. Four years later the platform of the Free-soil party contained no reference whatever to fugitive slaves, but that of 1852 denounced the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 as repugnant to the Constitution and the spirit of Christianity and denied its binding force on the American people. The Republican platform of 1856 made no reference to the subject.
The Underground Railroad filled an insignificant place in the general plan for emancipation, even in the minds of the directors. It was a lesser task preparatory to the great work. As to the numbers of slaves who gained their freedom by means of it, there is a wide range of opinion. Statements in Congress by Southern members that a hundred thousand had escaped must be regarded as gross exaggerations. In any event the loss was confined chiefly to the border States. Besides, it has been stated with some show of reason that the danger of servile insurrection was diminished by the escape of potential leaders.
From the standpoint of the great body of anti-slavery men who expected to settle the slavery question by peaceable means, it was a calamity of the first magnitude that, just at the time when conditions were most favorable for transferring the active crusade from the general Government to the separate States, public attention should be directed to the one point at which the conflict was most acute and irrepressible.
Previous to 1850 there had been no general acrimonious debate in Congress on the rendition of fugitive slaves. About half of those who had previously escaped from bondage had not taken the trouble to go as far as Canada, but were living at peace in the Northern States. Few people at the North knew or cared anything about the details of a law that had been on the statute books since 1793. Members of Congress were duly warned of the dangers involved in any attempt to enforce a more stringent law than the previous act which had proved a dead letter. To those who understood the conditions, the new law also was doomed to failure. So said Senator Butler of South Carolina. An attempt to enforce it would be met by violence.
This prediction came true. The twenty thousand potential victims residing in Northern States were thrown into panic. Some rushed off to Canada; others organized means for protection. A father and son from Baltimore came to a town in Pennsylvania to recover a fugitive. An alarm was sounded; men, mostly colored, rushed to the protection of the one whose liberty was threatened. Two Quakers appeared on the scene and warned the slavehunters to desist and upon their refusal one slave-hunter was instantly killed and the other wounded. The fugitive was conveyed to a place of safety, and to the murderers no punishment was meted out, though the general Government made strenuous efforts to discover and punish them. In New York, though Gerrit Smith and a local clergyman with a few assistants rescued a fugitive from the officers of the law and sent him to Canada, openly proclaiming and justifying the act, no attempt was made to punish the offenders.
After a dozen years of intense and ever-increasing excitement, when other causes of friction between North and South had apparently been removed and good citizens in the two sections were rejoicing at the prospect of an era of peace and harmony, public attention was concentrated upon the one problem of conduct which would not admit of peaceable legal adjustment. Abolitionists had always been stigmatized as lawbreakers whose aim was the destruction of slavery in utter disregard of the rights of the States. This charge was absolutely false; their settled program involved full recognition of state and municipal control over slavery. Yet after public attention had become fixed upon conduct on the part of the abolitionists which was illegal, it was difficult to escape the implication that their whole course was illegal. This was the tragic significance of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
CHAPTER IX. BOOKS AS ANTI-SLAVERY WEAPONS
Whittier offered up "thanks for the fugitive slave law; for it gave occasion for 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'" Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe had been mistress of a station on the Underground Railroad at Cincinnati, the storm-center of the West, and out of her experience she has transmitted to the world a knowledge of the elemental and tragic human experiences of the slaves which would otherwise have been restricted to a select few. The mistress of a similar station in eastern Indiana, though she held novel reading a deadly sin, said: "'Uncle Tom's Cabin' is not a novel, it is a record of facts. I myself have listened to the same stories." The reading public in all lands soon became sympathetic participants in the labors of those who, in defiance of law, were lending a hand to the aspirants for liberty. At the time of the publication of the story in book form in March, 1852, America was being profoundly stirred by the stories of fugitives who had escaped from European despotism. Mrs. Stowe refers to these incidents in her question: "When despairing Hungarian fugitives make their way, against all the search-warrants and authorities of their lawful governments to America, press and political cabinet ring with applause and welcome. When despairing African fugitives do the same thing—it is—what IS it?" Little did she think that when the eloquence of the Hungarian refugee had been forgotten, the story of Eliza and Uncle Tom would ring throughout the world.
The book did far more than vindicate the conduct of those who rendered assistance to the fugitive from slavery; it let in daylight upon the essential nature of slavery. Humane and just masters are shown to be forced into participation in acts which result in intolerable cruelty. Full justice is done to the noble and admirable character of Southern slave-owners. The author had been a guest in the home of the "Shelbys," in Kentucky. She had taken great pains to understand the Southern point of view on the subject of slavery; she had entered into the real trials and difficulties involved in any plan of emancipation. St. Clair, speaking to Miss Ophelia, his New England cousin, says:
"If we emancipate, are you willing to educate? How many families of your town would take in a negro man or woman, teach them, bear with them, and seek to make them Christians? How many merchants would take Adolph, if I wanted to make him a clerk; or mechanics, if I wanted to teach him a trade? If I wanted to put Jane and Rosa to a school, how many schools are there in the Northern States that would take them in? How many families that would board them? And yet they are as white as many a woman north or south. You see, cousin, I want justice done us. We are in a bad position. We are the more obvious oppressors of the negro; but the unchristian prejudice of the north is an oppressor almost equally severe."
Throughout the book the idea is elaborated in many ways. Miss Ophelia is introduced for the purpose of contrasting Northern ignorance and New England prejudice with the patience and forbearance of the better class of slave-owners of the South. The genuine affection of an unspoiled child for negro friends is made especially emphatic. Miss Ophelia objected to Eva's expressions of devotion to Uncle Tom. Her father insists that his daughter shall not be robbed of the free utterance of her high regard, observing that "the child is the only true democrat." There is only one Simon Legree in the book, and he is of New England extraction. The story is as distinctly intended to inform Northern ignorance and to remove Northern prejudice as it is to justify the conduct of abolitionists.
What was the effect of the publication? In European countries far removed from local partizan prejudice, it was immediately received as a great revelation of the spirit of liberty. It was translated into twenty-three different languages. So devoted were the Italians to the reading of the story that there was earnest effort to suppress its circulation. As a drama it proved a great success, not only in America and England but in France and other countries as well. More than a million copies of the story were sold in the British Empire. Lord Palmerston avers that he had not read a novel for thirty years, yet he read Uncle Tom's Cabin three times and commended the book for the statesmanship displayed in it.
What is in the story to call forth such commendation from the cold-blooded English statesman? The book revealed, in a way fitted to carry conviction to every unprejudiced reader, the impossibility of uniting slavery with freedom under the same Government. Either all must be free or the mass subject to the few—or there is actual war. This principle is finely brought out in the predicament of the Quaker confronted by a fugitive with wife and child who had seen a sister sold and conveyed to a life of shame on a Southern plantation. "Am I going to stand by and see them take my wife and sell her?" exclaimed the negro. "No, God help me! I'll fight to the last breath before they shall take my wife and son. Can you blame me?" To which the Quaker replied: "Mortal man cannot blame thee, George. Flesh and blood could not do otherwise. 'Woe unto the world because of offences but woe unto them through whom the offence cometh.'" "Would not even you, sir, do the same, in my place?" "I pray that I be not tried." And in the ensuing events the Quaker played an important part.
Laws enacted for the protection of slave property are shown to be destructive of the fundamental rights of freemen; they are inhuman. The Ohio Senator, who in his lofty preserve at the capital of his country could discourse eloquently of his readiness to keep faith with the South in the matter of the faithful execution of the Fugitive Slave Law, becomes, when at home with his family, a flagrant violator of the law. Elemental human nature is pitted against the apparent interests of a few individual slaveowners. The story of Uncle Tom placed all supporters of the new law on the defensive. It was read by all classes North and South. "Uncle Tom's Cabin as it is" was called forth from the South as a reply to Mrs. Stowe's book, and there ensued a general discussion of the subject which was on the whole enlightening. Yet the immediate political effect of the publication was less than might have been expected from a book so widely read and discussed. Its appearance early in the decade did not prevent the apparent pro-slavery reaction already described. But Mr. Rhodes calls attention to the different impression which the book made upon adults and boys. Hardened sinners in partizan politics could read the book, laugh and weep over the passing incidents, and then go on as if nothing had happened. Not so with the thirteen-year-old boy. He never could be the same again. The Republican party of 1860 was especially successful in gaining the first vote of the youthful citizen and undoubtedly owed much of its influence to "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
Two lines of attack were rapidly rendering impossible the continuance of slavery in the United States. Mrs. Stowe gave effective expression to the moral, religious, and humanitarian sentiment against slavery. In the year in which her work was published, Frederick Law Olmsted began his extended journeys throughout the South. He represents the impartial scientific observer. His books were published during the years 1856, 1857, and 1861. They constitute in their own way an indictment against slavery quite as forcible as that of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," but an indictment that rests chiefly upon the blighting influence of the institution of slavery upon agriculture, manufactures, and the general industrial and social order. The crisis came too soon for these publications to have any marked effect upon the issue. Their appeal was to the deliberate and thoughtful reader, and political control had already drifted into the hands of those who were not deliberate and composed.
In 1857, however, there appeared a book which did exert a marked influence upon immediate political issues. There is no evidence that Hinton Rowan Helper, the author of "The Impending Crisis," had any knowledge of the writings of Olmsted; but he was familiar with Northern anti-slavery literature. "I have considered my subject more particularly," he states in his preface, "with reference to its economic aspects as regards the whites—not with reference, except in a very slight degree, to its humanitarian or religious aspects. To the latter side of the question, Northern writers have already done full and timely justice.... Yankee wives have written the most popular anti-slavery literature of the day. Against this I have nothing to say; it is all well enough for women to give the fictions of slavery; men should give the facts." He denies that it had been his purpose to cast unmerited opprobium upon slaveholders; yet a sense of personal injury breathes throughout the pages. If he had no intention of casting unmerited opprobrium upon slaveholders, it is difficult to imagine what language he could have used if he had undertaken to pass the limit of deserved reprobation. In this regard the book is quite in line with the style of Southern utterance against abolitionists.
Helper belonged to a slaveholding family, for a hundred years resident in the Carolinas. The dedication is significant. It is to three personal friends from three slave States who at the time were residing in California, in Oregon, and in Washington Territory, "and to the non-slaveholding whites of the South generally, whether at home or abroad." Out of the South had come the inspiration for the religious and humanitarian attack upon slavery. From the same source came the call for relief of the poverty-stricken white victims of the institution.
Helper's book revived the controversy which had been forcibly terminated a quarter of a century before. He resumes the argument of the members of the Virginia legislature of 1832. He reprints extended selections from that memorable debate and then, by extended references to later official reports, points out how slavery is impoverishing the South. The South is shown to have continuously declined, while the North has made immense gains. In a few years the relation of the South to the North would resemble that of Poland to Russia or of Ireland to England. The author sees no call for any arguments against slavery as an economic system; he would simply bring the earlier characterization of the situation down to date.
Helper differs radically from all earlier speakers and writers in that he outlines a program for definite action. He estimates that for the entire South there are seven white non-slaveholders for every three slaveholders. He would organize these non-slaveholding whites into an independent political party and would hold a general convention of non-slaveholders from every slave State to adopt measures to restrain "the diabolical excesses of the oligarchy" and to annihilate slavery. Slaveholders should be entirely excluded from any share in government. They should be treated as criminals ostracized from respectable society. He is careful to state, however, that by slaveholder he does not mean such men as Benton of Missouri and many others throughout the slave States who retain the sentiments on the slavery question of the "immortal Fathers of the Republic." He has in mind only the new order of owners, who have determined by criminal methods to inflict the crime of slavery upon an overwhelming majority of their white fellow-citizens.
The publication of "The Impending Crisis" created a profound sensation among Southern leaders. So long as the attack upon the peculiar institution emanated from the North, the defenders had the full benefit of local prejudice and resentment against outside intrusion. Helper was himself a thorough-going believer in state rights. Slavery was to be abolished, as he thought, by the action of the separate States. Here he was in accord with Northern abolitionists. If such literature as Helper's volume should find its way into the South, it would be no longer possible to palm off upon the unthinking public the patent falsehood that abolitionists of the North were attempting to impose by force a change in Southern institutions. All that Southern abolitionists ever asked was the privilege of remaining at home in their own South in the full exercise of their constitutional rights.
Southern leaders were undoubtedly aware of the concurrent publications of travelers and newspaper reporters, of which Olmsted's books were conspicuous examples. Olmsted and Helper were both sources of proof that slavery was bringing the South to financial ruin. The facts were getting hold of the minds of the Southern people. The debate which had been adjourned was on the eve of being resumed. Complete suppression of the new scientific industrial argument against slavery seemed to slave-owners to furnish their only defense.
The Appalachian ranges of mountains drove a wedge of liberty and freedom from Pennsylvania almost to the Gulf. In the upland regions slavery could not flourish. There was always enmity between the planters of the coast and the dwellers on the upland. The slaveholding oligarchy had always ruled, but the day of the uplanders was at hand. This is the explanation of the veritable panic which Helper's publication created. A debate which should follow the line of this old division between the peoples of the Atlantic slave States would, under existing conditions, be fatal to the institution of slavery. West Virginia did become a free State at the first opportunity. Counties in western North Carolina claim to have furnished a larger proportion of their men to the Union army than any other counties in the country. Had the plan for peaceable emancipation projected by abolitionists been permitted to take its course, the uplands of South Carolina would have been pitted against the lowlands, and Senator Tillman would have appeared as a rampant abolitionist. There might have been violence, but it would have been confined to limited areas in the separate States. Had the crisis been postponed, there surely would have been a revival of abolitionism within the Southern States. Slavery in Missouri was already approaching a crisis. Southern leaders had long foreseen that the State would abolish slavery if a free State should be established on the western boundary. This was actually taking place. Kansas was filling up with free-state settlers and, by the act of its own citizens, a few years later did abolish slavery.
Republicans naturally made use of Helper's book for party purposes. A cheap abridged edition was brought out. Several Republican leaders were induced to sign their names to a paper commending the publication. Among these was John Sherman of Ohio, who in the organization of the newly elected House of Representatives in 1859 was the leading candidate of the Republicans for the speakership. During the contest the fact that his name was on this paper was made public, and Southern leaders were furious. Extracts were read to prove that the book was incendiary. Millson of Virginia said that "one 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." It is one of the ironies of the situation that the passage selected to prove the incendiary character of the book is almost a literal quotation from the debate in the Virginia Legislature of 1832.