All were exhausted by the long, sleepless strain, and many were drunk. Douglas was on the floor during most of the session, passing about swiftly among his followers and directing their movements, the master-spirit who guided the storm of his own raising. At midnight the House, now a mere bedlam, adjourned.
The struggle dragged along from day to day, the minority stubbornly contesting every inch, and the majority, under the personal direction of Douglas, hesitating to use their power. At last, on May 22nd, at nearly midnight, the final vote was forced and the bill passed by a majority of thirteen. Among those voting against it was Thomas H. Benton of Missouri, now a Member of the House, after his thirty years' service in the Senate. His terse characterization is more generally remembered than anything else said against it. Speaking with a statesman's contempt of the explanatory clause, he said it was "a little stump speech injected in the belly of the bill."
Chapter VII. The Brewing Storm.
The powerful will and effective energy of the young Senator had achieved a legislative revolution. Perhaps, like Geethe's apprentice, he had called into action powers of mischief which he would not be able to control. With the instincts of the politician he had sought to devise a fundamental principle to meet a passing exigency. He had cooked his breakfast over the volcano.
The whole doctrine of popular sovereignty which became thenceforth the central article in his creed did such violence both to law and philosophy as to discredit the acumen of any statesman who seriously believed it. It was a short lived doctrine, speedily repudiated with disgust by the South, in whose interest it had been invented, and rejected as a legal heresy by a Supreme Court of learned advocates of slavery. It is hardly possible that Douglas believed that Congress could delegate its highest duties and responsibilities to a handful of chance squatters on the frontier. This doctrine, to the establishment of which he devoted a great part of the remaining energies of his life, "meant that Congress, which represented the political wisdom of an educated people, should abdicate its constitutional right of deciding a question which demanded the most sagacious statesmanship in favor of a thousand, or perhaps ten thousand, pioneers, adventurers and fortune seekers, who should happen to locate in the Territory."
The proposition to give the squatters actual sovereignty in all things was an evident reducto ad absurdium. And yet it was the inevitable result of Douglas' reasoning. The only excuse for the existence of territorial governments was that the inhabitants were not yet ready for the duties of self-government. Squatter sovereignty rested on the assumption that there was no such period of immaturity, and hence no period in which territorial governments were justified. The clear logic of the doctrine would entitle the first band of squatters on the public domain to organize a State. But it was a superficially plausible proposition that appealed with peculiar power to the uncritical popular prejudice. The equality of men and the right of self government were the central truths of the American polity. The sentimental devotion to these two principles was passionate and universal. A dogma that seemed to embody them was a rare invention, the supreme feat of the highest order of practical political genius.
But the omens were not good. People seemed absurdly in earnest about this harmless political maneuver. Throughout the North rose a storm of vehement protest, not merely from Abolitionists and Whigs but from insurgent Democrats, which resulted in the consolidation of the incoherent anti-slavery factions into the Republican party and its early conquest of the Democratic States of the Northwest. It developed later that the Northern Democracy was hopelessly ruined by this political masterpiece of the greatest Northern Democrat.
Lincoln, who had been quietly maturing in modest retirement, was roused by this shock and began that memorable battle with Douglas, which finally lifted the obscure lawyer to heights above the great Senator. A resolution endorsing the Nebraska bill was pushed through the Illinois legislature with difficulty, several of the ablest Democrats denouncing it bitterly. Other Northern legislatures either protested against it or remained ominously silent. Throughout the North pulpit and press thundered against the repeal with startling disregard of party affiliations. Three thousand New England clergymen sent a petition protesting against it "in the name of Almighty God." The clergy of New York denounced it. The ministers of Chicago and the Northwest sent to Douglas a remonstrance with a request that he present it, which he did. He was deeply hurt by the angry protests from the moral guides of the people. He denounced the preachers for their ignorant meddling in political affairs, and declared with great warmth that they had desecrated the pulpit and prostituted the sacred desk to the miserable and corrupting influence of party politics. He afterwards said in bitter jest, "on my return home I traveled from Boston to Chicago in the light of fires in which my own effigies were burning."
Congress adjourned early in August, but he lingered in the East and not until late in the month did he return to meet his constituents. The intensity of popular indignation at the North was a disagreeable surprise to him. In Chicago the sentiment was openly and overwhelmingly against him. It was dangerous, now that he had fought his way up to the head of his party and seemed assured of the coveted nomination, to permit himself to be discredited at home.
Four years before he had conquered the hostile city by a speech, and he resolved again to subdue its insurgent spirit. Meetings of disgusted Democrats and indignant Whigs had been held to denounce him. He had been burned in effigy on the streets. He had been charged with loitering in the East afraid to meet the people whom he had betrayed. The changes were rung on the fact that his middle name was that of the traitor, Benedict Arnold. When he entered the city the flags on building and vessels were hanging mournfully at half-mast. At sunset the bells were tolled solemnly. It was truly a funereal reception. Arrangements were made for him to address the people on the night of September 1st in vindication of himself. The meeting was held in the large open space in front of North Market Hall. The crowd was enormous and ominously sullen. The roofs, windows and balconies of all adjacent buildings were occupied. There was not a cheer, except from a little band of friends in front of him, as at nearly eight o'clock he rose to speak.
The memorable scene which followed illustrates how small is the interval that separates the most advanced civilization from the grossest barbarism. He began his speech, but was soon interrupted by a storm of hisses and groans, growing louder and louder until it seemed that the whole enormous throng was pouring out its execration in a mingled hiss and groan. He waited with defiant calmness for the storm to subside and again attempted to speak. He told them with manifest vexation that he had returned home to address his constituents and defend his course and that he intended to be heard. Again he was interrupted by the overwhelming hiss, mingled with groans and coarse insults. His friends fiercely threatened to resent the outrage, but he prudently restrained them. He then began to shout defiance and rebukes at the mob. His combative temper was stirred. He shook his head and brandished his fists at the jeering crowd. His friends importuned him to desist, but he pushed them aside and again and again returned to the attack with stentorian tones and vehement gestures, striving to outvoice the wild tumult and compel an audience.
But they were as resolute as he and persistently drowned his shouting. This continued nearly three hours. At half-past ten, baffled, mortified and angry, he withdrew. One admiring biographer declares that he yelled to the mob as a parting valediction, "Abolitionists of Chicago, it is now Sunday morning. I will go to church while you go to the devil in your own way." The irrepressible conflict was approaching the muscular stage of its development, when the aroused passions of the people must find some other vent than words, when the game of politics could no longer be safely played with the strongest emotions of a deeply moral race.
It was not possible to treat the matter lightly. Evidently a tide of fanatical passion had set against him, not only in the old North, but in the new Northwest, the field of his undisputed mastery. It was necessary to bestir himself in earnest and turn back this rising flood which threatened to engulf him just as he came in sight of his goal. The symptoms were decidedly bad. The elections thus far held indicated a surprising revolt against his new Democratic gospel of popular sovereignty. As the autumn advanced the omens grew worse. New Hampshire and Connecticut had already manifested their disapproval. Iowa, hitherto staunchly Democratic, was carried by the Whigs. The later New England elections showed the most amazing Democratic defection. Pennsylvania elected to Congress twenty-one pronounced opponents of popular sovereignty and slavery extension. Ohio and Indiana had both cast their votes for Pierce. But at this election Ohio rejected the revised Democratic platform by 75,00 and Indiana by 13,000.
After his rebuff in Chicago he plunged into the Illinois campaign, which was fought on the Kansas-Nebraska issue. In the northern part of the State his receptions were chilly and his audiences unfriendly, sometime indulging in boisterous demonstrations of hostility. "Burning effigies, effigies suspended by robes, banners with all the vulgar mottoes and inscriptions that passion and prejudice could suggest, were displayed at various points. Whenever he attempted to speak, the noisy demonstrations which had proved so successful in Chicago were repeated."
But as he moved southward the people became more cordial. The great center of political activity was Springfield, where the State Fair, lasting through the first week of October, attracted thousands of people, and the politicians assembled to make speeches and plan campaigns. He spoke on October 3rd at the State House. The most important matter pending was the choice of the legislature which should elect a Senator to succeed his colleague Shields, who was a candidate for reelection. The opposition was a heterogeneous compound of Whigs, anti-Nebraska Democrats and all other political elements opposed to the revised Democratic creed. The leading candidates of this fusion party for Senator were Lyman Trumbull, a Democrat opposed to the new program of slavery extension, and Abraham Lincoln, the recognized leader of the Whig party of the State. It was expected that Lincoln would answer Douglas on the following day.
This political tourney held in the little Western Capital was in many ways a rather notable event. The great question of human slavery had now definitely passed from the region of mere moral disquisition into that of active statesmanship. It had become the decisive practical problem of the time, the attempt to solve which was revolutionizing party politics and sweeping away the political philosophy of the past. The opinions of men on this question were determining their associations and directing their conduct, regardless of minor matters, which are now forgotten. The South was united for the support and extension of slavery. The North was tending to unity in the resolve to prevent its further spread. Already the new generation of Southern statesmen were plotting to divide the Union and were bent on extending the slave holding States across the continent, believing that when the separation occurred, California would join the Southern Confederation and thus give them a Republic extending from ocean to ocean and controlling the mouth of the Mississippi.
The first step in this plan had already been taken by opening to slavery the Territory of Kansas, which then contained a large part of Colorado. The remaining task of pushing their western border on to the Pacific seemed comparatively easy. Already treason was festering in the heart of the South, but Douglas, now the most powerful ally of these plotting traitors, was entirely devoted to the Union. He neither felt nor thought deeply on any question. The symptoms of coming revolution were merely disclosures of political strategy to him. The South held out the bait of the Presidency, and he led its battle. In his attachment to the Union and his subordination of both morals and statecraft to its preservation as the supreme end, he was a faithful echo of the great statesmen of the preceding age. But a generation of statesmen had appeared in the North with a large and growing following who were reluctantly reaching the conclusion that the primary rights of man were even more sacred than the Union. Political expediency was not their ultimate test of right.
Lincoln, though yet comparatively obscure, was destined soon to become the leader of this new school of ethical statesmen, as distinguished from the old school of political temporizers and opportunists to which Douglas belonged. Lincoln, as Douglas well knew, was a man of finer intellectual gifts than any of the great senatorial triumvirate whom he had successfully met. His moral feelings were tuned to as high a key as Sumner's. He had a firmer grasp of the central truths of the new politico-moral creed than Chase. He had more tact and sagacity than Seward. He had more patience with temporary error, more serene faith in the health and sanity of human nature than any of the three. He was a greater master of the art of popular oratory than any of them. Above all he had the power, dangerous to Douglas, of seizing the most ingenious and artfully concealed sophism and good naturedly dragging it to the light. Endowed with the most exuberant flow of genial humor, he was yet sternly earnest in his belief in the inviolable sanctity of moral right. During his recent years he had read much and thought deeply. He had mastered a style rarely equaled in clearness, simplicity and power. Without the prejudices and entanglements of a past political career, he entered the arena in the ripeness of his slow-maturing powers. Not only his temperament and intellect but his experience and training admirably fitted him for the high task which he was destined to perform.
When Douglas opened his speech at the State House, he unconsciously lent new importance to Lincoln by announcing that he understood that he was to answer him, and requesting him to come forward and arrange terms for the debate. But Lincoln was not present and he plunged into his argument, defending the Kansas-Nebraska bill, his own course and that of his party. Lincoln spoke the next day and among his most eager listeners was Douglas, who occupied a seat in front and was generously invited to reply. The speech, four hours long, was an agreeable surprise to Lincoln's friends, a startling revelation to Douglas and an astonishing event to the crowd, who recognized in the awkward country lawyer a dangerous antagonist for the great Senator, the incomparable master of the art of political debate. He realized that this obscure adversary had clutched him with a power never felt in his great struggles with the giants of the Senate. He indicated his sense of the importance of the contest by devoting two hours to a reply. The chief interest of this meeting now is in the new prominence which it gave to Lincoln. The long duel lasted intermittently through four years, and finally gave Lincoln such fame that he was chose over Seward and Chase to lead the anti-slavery forces which they had roused from lethargy and organized into unity.
The Illinois campaign continued with great spirit and Douglas had the mortification of seeing what he regarded as a wave of fanaticism engulf the State. The anti-Nebraska fusion carried the legislature, defeated Shields and, after a brief contest between Trumball, the anti-Nebraska Democrat, and Lincoln, the anti-slavery Whig, elected the former Senator.
Chapter VIII. Decline of Popular Sovereignty.
Congress had confessed its incompetency to deal with the Kansas problem and referred it to the decision of rude squatters on the frontier. They dealt with this grave congressional question in characteristic fashion. An Emigrant Aid Society, organized in Massachusetts, was among the means adopted by the North to colonize the Territory and mold its institutions. The adventurous frontiersmen of western Missouri were chiefly relied on by the South to shape the new State. The Emigrant Society founded the town of Lawrence and established there a formidable anti-slavery colony. The Missouri squatters organized a "Self-Defensive Association" and attempted to drive out the Northern settlers. Elections were held by the colonists from the North and their Missouri neighbors in which the Missourians outnumbered their rivals and captured the territorial government. The Northern colonists organized a State and attempted to run it. Irregular warfare was maintained between the Lawrence squatters and the invading Missourians to determine which faction was entitled to exercise the sovereignty delegated by Congress.
The House passed a bill to admit Kansas with the Constitution adopted at Topeka by the Northern settlers in their abortive effort to organize a State. It failed in the Senate and a few days later the Federal troops dispersed the usurping State legislature. The Governor seeing that all civil authority was ended, negotiate a truce between the warring factions, resigned and hastened away from the scene of the disastrous experiment of Squatter Sovereignty.
The meeting of Congress on December 3rd, 1855, marked another stage in the great struggle. So completely were the parties disorganized that it was found impossible to classify this Congress. From December 3rd to February 2nd the House was unable even to organize itself. On December 31st the President sent in his message. He disposed of the overshadowing problem in a few brief words and devoted the message to ephemeral matters long since as completely forgotten as himself. Although civil war had been raging in Kansas for many months and the carnival of crime was still in progress on that frontier, he gravely assured Congress that it was a matter of congratulation that the Republic was tranquilly advancing in a career of prosperity and peace. He told them that the people of the Territory were clothed with the power of self-government and that he had not felt justified in interfering with their exercise of that right. But on January 24th he sent another message announcing in general terms the disappointment of his hopes and recommending an enabling act for the admission of Kansas as a State.
The Senate consisted of thirty-four Democrats, twelve Whigs and thirteen Republicans. Douglas was the recognized leader of the majority, without whose presence they were unwilling to take any decisive action. But he was detained by sickness and did not take his seat until February 11th.
On the 12th of March he presented to the Senate a most elaborate report from his Committee, together with a bill to authorize the people of Kansas to organize a State whenever they should number 93,420.
It is impossible to read this report, which was prepared by himself, without admiring his subtle art and consummate skill. He argued away the power of Congress to impose restrictions on new States applying for their admission, other than that the Constitution be republican in form, and insisted that the people of the Territories must be left perfectly free to form their own institutions and were entitled to admission as matter of right. He traced the trouble to the pernicious activity of the Emigrant Aid Company, which had attempted to force New England institutions and customs upon the Territory. He accused this Company of systematic colonization and drew a moving picture of the march of these political colonists across Missouri, pouring out their denunciations of slavery, exhibiting their hostility to the institutions of that State, until at last the people in alarm resolved on defense. He admitted that there might be some cause for regret over the occasional errors and excesses of the Missourians; but it must not be forgotten that they were defending their internal prosperity and domestic security against the invasion of New England fanatics, who were bringing in their grain "the horrors of servile insurrection and intestine war."
The attempt to organize a State government at Topeka he condemned as a seditious movement, designed to overthrow the territorial government and the authority of the United States. He justified the law referring the question of slavery to the inhabitants, and traced its failure to the intemperate passions of those who had precipitated this mad contest for mastery.
Collamer of Vermont presented the minority report, condemning the violence of the friends of slavery, deploring the fearful results of the experiment of Squatter Sovereignty and urging speedy admission of the State. It condemned the provision of the law referring the question of slavery to the inhabitants and traced the entire trouble to that blunder.
Sumner at once denounced the report of the majority, intimated his purpose of properly setting the brand of falsehood upon it in a subsequent speech, and told them to "begin their game with loaded dice."
Douglas angrily challenged him to deny a single fact in the report and said he was ready to overwhelm him with proof. "We are ready to meet the issue," he said, "and there will be no dodging. We intend to meet it boldly; to require submission to the laws and to the constituted authorities; to reduce to subjection those who resist them, and to punish rebellion and treason. I am glad that a defiant spirit is exhibited here; we accept the issue."
Two days later Trumbull spoke in unsparing criticism of the report of the Committee. It happened that Douglas was absent when he began. Word was carried to him and he hurried to the Senate. When Trumbull closed and the usual motion to adjourn was made, he protested against it and denounced the discourtesy of discussing the report during his absence. He was vexed especially by his colleague's exasperating statement that was a "life-long Democrat and was representing the Democracy of Illinois in the Senate." He assured them that Trumbull was without party standing in that state, and proposed that they sign a joint resignation, thus submitting their quarrel to the people. But there was a deeper wound than this which still rankled, and he turned from his colleague to pour out his wrath on Sumner for the publication of the "Appeal of the Independent Democrats," and the old quarrel between them was rehearsed anew with increasing bitterness on both sides.
On the 20th he spoke for two hours and a half in defense of his report. Charges of fraud, violence or illegal voting, he said, were made in but seven of the eighteen election districts into which Kansas was divided, although ample provisions had been made for the presentation of protests to the Governor. A large majority of both branches of the legislature were elected by these eleven districts where no complaints were made. At least a quorum must have been legally elected. The minority report charged that on the day of the territorial election, "large bodies of armed men from the State of Missouri appeared at the polls in most of the districts, and by most violent and tumultuous carriage and demeanor, over-awed the defenseless inhabitants and by their own votes, elected a large majority of the members of both houses of said Assembly."
But the report contained not a word about the eleven uncontested districts affected by this invasion. In the eleven uncontested districts the judges made their returns in due form and, no protests nor charges of fraud or illegal voting being presented, the Governor granted certificates of election as a matter of course. The minority stated that in many districts protest had not been made because the inhabitants, discouraged and intimidated by the Missouri invaders, had let the matter pass. Yet at Lawrence and Leavenworth, the chief centers of the alleged Missouri violence the people were not intimidated from contesting the election, what reason was there to suppose that elsewhere, remote from the scene of trouble, they were so completely conquered that they dared not protest against their wrongs and petition for redress of their grievances?
The thirty-three judges appointed by the Government to conduct the election in the eleven districts, all swore that the returns contained a true statement of the votes polled by the lawful voters. The Governor, two weeks after giving certificates of election, issued his proclamation commanding the members to assemble on the 2d of July. He recognized the legitimacy of the legislature in his message, invoking the Divine blessing on it and recommending the passage of important laws. But he afterward quarreled with the legislature. He then sought to repudiate it and impeach its validity by charging that it had been elected by Missouri invaders. The only evidence before the Committee tending to show irregularities in the election was the hearsay statement of the Governor, which flatly contradicted his solemn official declarations. The legislature itself had investigated the elections of all members against whom contests were filed and its legitimacy was finally and conclusively established. The malcontents having failed to capture the legislature, encouraged by Governor Reeder (who had meanwhile been relieved from office), instituted their rebellious Topeka movement and, in defiance of the law, attempted to organize a State.
The movement was revolutionary and intended to subvert the existing Government. Only two laws enacted by the territorial legislature were complained of as unjust,—that relating to elections and that relating to slaves. The social, domestic and pecuniary relations of the people had adjusted themselves to this body of laws which Congress was asked to annul; and these friends of the negro who had organized a rebellious State government in his behalf, had adopted a Constitution which forever excluded him from the State. The entire trouble in Kansas, he continued, rose not from any vice inherent in the law, but from abuses of the rights given by it to the people. The law simply permitted them to form their domestic institutions in their own way. If that great principle had been permitted free operation, there would have been no violence or trouble in Kansas. The good order reigning in Nebraska, where the law was fairly tried, was sufficient proof of its wisdom.
The opponents of this great principle had insisted on moulding the State of Kansas from without. Having failed to induce Congress to interfere in the internal affairs of the Territory, they then sought to accomplish their purpose by means of a society organized in Washington and charted in Massachusetts, with several millions of capital. They had deliberately attempted to discredit the Kansas-Nebraska bill and its supporters, in order to influence the approaching presidential election. The whole responsibility for the disturbance in Kansas rested upon the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company and its affiliated societies. The people of Missouri never contemplated the invasion of conquest of the Territory. If they had imitated the example set by New England, they had done it on the principle of self-defense, and had always been ready to abandon their counter-movement as soon as the managers of the New England invasion ceased their efforts to shape the domestic institutions of the Territory by an unwarranted scheme of foreign interference. When the cardinal principle of self-government should be recognized as binding on all, there would be an end of the slavery controversy, and the occupation of political agitators, whose hopes of position and promotion depended upon their capacity to disturb the country, would be gone.
The debate lingered along indecisively through the Spring weeks and the Senators poured out their mutual recriminations with increasing bitterness. Personal relations among them were seriously strained. Both parties were conscious that their constituents shared their passions and applauded their acrimony.
On the 19th and 20th of May, Sumner delivered his philippic on "The Crime Against Kansas." The title of the speech was a gratuitous insult to the power which had held sway in American politics for fifty years and learned to enjoy that sense of superiority and sacredness which characterized the hierarchy in the middle ages. The assaults on brother Senators were brutal. Senator Butler of South Carolina, a polite, formal gentleman of the old school, was recognized as the social and intellectual head of the Southern aristocracy. Douglas, though forever excluded from its inner circles, was an efficient and useful ally.
These senatorial leaders of the slavery crusade in Kansas were the victims of Sumner's bitter invective. He referred to them as the Don Quixote and Sancho Panza of slavery and, as if to prove that this comparison was not a mere momentary inspiration of playful humor but the elaboration of malignant hate, he developed the parallel to its minute details. He described Douglas in his speech defending his report as "piling one mass of elaborate error on another mass and constraining himself to unfamiliar decencies of speech." But he drew hope from the reflection that the Illinois Senator "is but mortal man; against him is immortal principle. With finite power he wrestles with the Infinite and he must fall. Against him are stronger battalions than any marshaled by mortal arm, the inborn, ineradicable, invincible sentiments of the human heart; against him is Nature with all her subtle forces; against him is God. Let him try to subdue these." He compared the Kansas troubles to the barbarous warfare of the Scottish Highlands when blackmail was levied and robberies committed by marauders "acting under the inspiration of the Douglas of other days," and compared Douglas' recent speech to "the efforts of a distinguished logician to prove that Napoleon Bonaparte never existed."
Douglas answered with extreme bitterness. He declared that Sumner's speech had been got up like a Yankee bedquilt by sewing all the old scraps and patches together. He pronounced his classic quotations obscene and indecent.
"Is it his object," he asked, "to provoke some of us to kick him as we would a dog in the street? * * * * * The Senator from Massachusetts," he declared, "had his speech written, printed, committed to memory, and practiced every night before the glass, with a negro boy to hold the candle and watch the gestures." He charged Sumner with perjury in taking the senatorial oath to his personal grievance and complained that he had been burned and hung in effigy under the advice of Sumner and his brother agitators because of his unswerving devotion to the Constitution.
"I wish," he said, "the Senate to bear in mind that in the many controversies in which I have been engaged since I have been a member of this body, I never had one in which I was not first assailed. I have always stood on the defensive. You arrange it on the opposite side of the house to set your hounds after me and then complain when I cuff them over the head and send them back yelping. I never made an attack on any Senator; I have only repelled attacks." He warned Sumner that Butler, who was absent during the speech, would return to speak and act for himself.
Sumner briefly replied, defending himself against the charge of disloyalty to the Constitution in his unwillingness to support its fugitive slave clause, by quoting Jackson's famous dictum that each man swears to support the Constitution as he understands it. He then turned on Douglas with bitter scorn. He rebuked him for his coarse personalities unbecoming a Senator and a gentleman.
"Let him remember," he said, "that the bowie-knife and bludgeon are not the proper emblems of senatorial debate. Let him remember that the swagger of Bob Acres and the ferocity of the Malay cannot add dignity to this body. * * * * I will not go into the details which have flowed out so naturally from his tongue. I only brand them to his face as false. I say also to that Senator, and I wish him to bear it in mind, that no person with the upright form of man can be allowed—" He hesitated in doubt whether to proceed.
"Say it," exclaimed Douglas.
"I will say it," replied Sumner. "No person with the upright form of man can be allowed, without violation of all decency, to switch out from his tongue the perpetual stench of offensive personality. Sir, that is not a proper weapon of debate, at least on this floor. The noisome, squat and nameless animal to which I now refer is not a proper model for an American Senator. Will the Senator from Illinois take notice?"
"I will," answered Douglas, "and therefore will not imitate you in that capacity, recognizing the force of the illustration."
"Again," replied Sumner, "the Senator has switched his tongue and again he fills the Senate with its offensive odor."
Two days after the speech, Preston H. Brooks, a relative of Butler, who represented a district of South Carolina in the House, entered the Senate Chamber after adjournment and, finding Sumner in his seat writing, approached him and struck him down with a heavy cane. There was a brief struggle in which Sumner was stunned and severely injured.
When the assault occurred Douglas was in the reception room adjoining the Senate Chamber conversing with friends. A messenger ran in shouting that someone was beating Mr. Sumner. He rose intending to interfere in the fray, but, recalling their unpleasant relations, returned to his seat. When the violence was ended he went to the Chamber to see the result. Sumner, dazed, bruised and bleeding, had been helped to his feet and was leaning against a chair. Douglas cast a momentary glance at the victim of this brutal and cowardly outrage, then passed on without comment.
On the day before the assault, the Missouri ruffians had sacked the town of Lawrence. On the day following, John Brown's Pottawotamie adventure occurred. A crisis was at hand imperiously demanding more effective action on the part of Congress. The country was aroused, alarmed and horrified. The Conventions were to be held in June and it was necessary that the Democrats bestir themselves and make some disposition of the harassing problem of Kansas. The existing condition in the hag-ridden Territory was directly chargeable to a measure whose authorship Douglas had boasted. There was danger that the tragic failure of his masterpiece of state-craft would wreck his party and load his own name with odium which even his rugged vitality could not throw off. Such uncontrollable passion had been stirred by his pending bill that it seemed prudent to quietly drop it.
On the 24th of June, Toombs introduced a bill providing for the taking of a census, the holding of an election of delegates to a Constitutional Convention, and the orderly organization of a State. It was referred to Douglas' Committee, which promptly reported back an amended bill so infinitely better than the measures thus far attempted that it seemed comparatively just. It provided for the appointment of commissioners to prepare lists of all citizens over twenty-one years old resident in the Territory since the 4th of July, who were to vote at the election; also for the holding of a Convention, the drafting of a Constitution and the admission of the State.
There were three objections to the bill. The commissioners were to be appointed by President Pierce. The 4th of July, from which residence must date, was a time at which great numbers of Northern settlers would be absent from the Territory on account of the turbulence and disorder which had rendered life there not only uncomfortable but unsafe. Moreover, no express provision was made for submitting the Constitution to a vote. However, it was regarded as a concession to the demands of an aroused public, clothed with the power of promptly and authoritatively expressing its disapproval.
But there were those in the Senate who feared the gift-bearing Greeks and thought it well, now that the majority had shown some regard for public opinion, to insist upon an explicit declaration of their purpose to submit the slavery question to the people of the Territory fairly and without juggling tricks. On the 2d of July, Trumbull offered an amendment declaring it to be the true intent and meaning of the bill organizing the Territory of Kansas to confer upon the inhabitants "full power at any time, through its territorial legislature, to exclude slavery from said Territory or to recognize and regulate it therein."
This amendment seemed with utmost fairness to declare the meaning of that law precisely as Douglas expounded it. But the South had already taken the advanced ground that, as the Constitution of the United States expressly established slavery, it was not within the power of Congress or its creature, the territorial legislature, to abolish it. This was not the creed of the Northern Democracy, which had embraced the popular sovereignty doctrine of Douglas and Cass. To abandon that doctrine was to alienate the Northern Democrats and lose the presidential election. To carry it out in good faith was to surrender Kansas and the remaining Territories to anti-slavery institutions; for it was already evident that popular sovereignty meant free States. It was at no time a part of the serious political philosophy of the South, but the ingenious invention of the Northern leaders to hold their following. The South had permitted is Northern allies to give currency to the doctrine, but the more sagacious saw that it was a failure and were preparing, when the election was over, to cast it aside and announce the true Southern dogma, that no sovereignty except that of a State could forbid slavery anywhere in the Union.
Already the Dred Scott case was pending in the Supreme Court and had been once argued; but the decision was reserved until the elections were over and the new President inaugurated. Well informed Southern statesmen did not doubt that this ultra doctrine of their party would receive the authoritative sanction of that tribunal and the temporary scaffolding of popular sovereignty would then be summarily kicked aside. They could not afford to adopt Trumbull's declaration of power in the Territory to abolish slavery, for they secretly expected to establish that it had no such power. They could not afford to frankly declare against it while still courting the Northern Democrats. Benjamin, who was an accomplished lawyer, and with the lawyer's instincts depended more on constitutional defenses than on wavering popular majorities, moved to add the words "subject only to the Constitution of the United States." Now that the Constitution had become the bulwark of slavery, there was nervous dread that Congress and the people might forget that it was the supreme law to which all legislation was subject. Douglas earnestly objected to Trumbull's amendment. He protested against it as wholly unnecessary. He also voted against it as did the great majority of the Senators.
The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 33 to 12; but the House declined to consider it, and on the 3d passed an act to admit Kansas under the Topeka Constitution. No compromise of differences so radical was possible. Douglas remarked truly to his biographer that "it was evident during all the proceedings that the Republicans were as anxious to keep the Kansas question open as the Democrats were to close it, in view of the approaching presidential election."
Chapter IX. The Conventions of 1856.
Douglas was now at the zenith of his success, master of all his resources, the most admired, dreaded and powerful man in American public life. History must inexorably condemn much of his most brilliant and successful work, but the very emphasis of its condemnation is an involuntary tribute to the matchless efficiency of the man. At this period he was the most masterful and commanding personage of purely civil character that has "strutted his hour upon the stage" of American politics. The cabinet maker's apprentice, the village schoolmaster, the Western lawyer, had, by sheer force, established his right to this position of real master of his country. A weak President was cringing at his feet. He had overcome the brilliant and powerful opposition in the Senate. The aristocratic South, which instinctively dreaded and despised a plebeian, was paying him temporary homage.
He was barely 43 years old. So strenuous and effective had been his youth that people hesitated to set bounds to his future possibilities. So strongly had his overmastering force impressed the popular imagination that the sobriquet, "Little Giant," suggested by his small stature and enormous energy, had become household words. He had come to Washington fifteen years before, a crude, coarse, blustering youth, as described by the accomplished Adams whose social ideals were borrowed from the courts of Europe. But he had readily adjusted himself to his new environment and taken on the polish of the Capital. Though never rich, he made money with ease and spent it with princely munificence. He was not only the political dictator but the social lion of Washington. He lived in splendid style, in harmony with his exalted station, entertained generously and responded freely to the numerous invitations of friends and admirers. "His ready wit, his fine memory, made him a favorite. * * * * He delighted in pleasant company. Unused to what is called etiquette, he soon adapted himself to its rules and took rank in the dazzling society of the Capital. * * * To see him threading the glittering crowds with a pleasant smile or kind word for everybody one would have taken him for a trained courtier."
Tradition, backed by General McClellan, says he was a heavy drinker, though not a drunkard, and some of his finest speeches at this period of his life appear to have been delivered after unrestrained carousals that would have prostrated ordinary men.
Ever since 1852, when his youth and indiscretion had defeated his presidential aspirations, he had been waiting impatiently for the Convention of 1856. During the past four years he had been conspicuously "riding in the whirlwind and directing the storm" of politics. He had perhaps intensified the hostile prejudices of the New England Puritans; but they were austere moralists, rather than progressive politicians. He had certainly alienated many friends in the Northwest, which was slowly withdrawing from its old alliance with the South, and falling into sympathy with the stern and uncompromising East. But, while he regretted the necessity of giving offense to any section of the country or any body of the people, he had deliberately chosen what he deemed the less of two political evils,—the alienation of the Puritans of New England and the Northwest rather than a breach with the salve holding baronage of the South, which had established a prescriptive right to control the Presidency. And yet the fact could not be blinked that all his services and sacrifices to the South had failed to give him its confidence and the enthusiastic loyalty that springs from it. It viewed him with mingled emotions of admiration and fear. It desired to retain his service but was unwilling to trust him with power. It could not forget that in his zeal for its service that he had trifled with the North and suspected that, if self-interest prompted, he might break faith with the section which he now served with such ardor.
The South, a decided minority in population, had long held its sway by artful appeals to the selfish ambition of Northern politicians. Although the undisputed command of the Democracy was in its hands and the burning question of the time was that of slavery, no Southern man had in late years been permitted to enter the field as a candidate for the Presidency. The Southern leaders inexorably insisted on giving the nomination to Northern men. There were at this time three candidates from the North; Pierce, how would have joyfully submitted to any terms and pledged himself to any service for another four years of office; Buchanan, the great lawyer and distinguished statesman, who had just returned from the English mission; and Douglas, the giant of the Senate, the recognized head and practical dictator of his party.
In point of ability and energy there was no comparison between Douglas and either of his competitors. Pierce had laboriously earned for himself the lasting contempt of the world. Buchanan was an eminently respectable, dignified old gentleman of great professional attainments and diplomatic experience, an admirable Ambassador, a good Secretary of State, who might even have adorned the Supreme Bench, but whose vacillating will and temporizing character hopelessly unfitted him for the arduous duties of the Presidency in the great crises that ensued. Had the positive, combative and masterful Douglas been nominated at this time it may be safely said that the most momentous chapter of American history would have been widely different from what it is.
The Convention met at Cincinnati on the 2d of June and continued in session for five days. The platform was adopted without dissent, declaring the firm purpose of the party to "resist all attempts at renewing, in Congress or out of it, the agitation of the slavery question," and "recognizing and adopting the principle contained in the organic law establishing the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas as embodying the only sound and safe solution of the slavery question."
Buchanan's candidacy was engineered with rare skill. He was fortunate in having been absent from the country, representing his Government at the Court of St. James, during the three preceding years crowded with great and stirring events, while Pierce and Douglas had been skirmishing for the advantage, each seeking to outbid the other in eager competition for Southern favor. The South was deeply indebted to Douglas; but fear is strong than gratitude. It was well satisfied with Pierce, but hesitated to nominate him lest he might be overwhelmed with a storm of just contempt. Without an element of positive strength, Buchanan was a formidable candidate. On the first ballot he had 135 votes, Pierce 122, Douglas 33, and Cass 5. Pierce lost steadily for 14 ballots while Buchanan and Douglas gained. Pierce's name was then withdrawn. On the next ballot Buchanan had 168 and Douglas 118 votes. Douglas then sent a dispatch to Richardson, his manager, to withdraw his name and make the nomination of Buchanan unanimous.
On June 17th the first Republican National Convention was held at Philadelphia. It was not yet a united and well organized party. It made little pretense of agreeing in anything but unyielding opposition to slavery-propagandism and the fixed resolve to curb the intolerable arrogance of the slave power. It was made up of those who were opposed to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, to the further extension of slavery, and to the refusal to admit Kansas as a free State. It consisted of Whigs, Free-spoilers, Know-nothings and Democrats, who were inclined to apologize for their temporary association under the name of this mushroom upstart and were not willing to have it forgotten that their essential political creeds were unchanged. They were Republicans for a time until their own parties reformed or gathered strength for more effective work.
Yet, imperfect as was the organic unity of the party, it contained a large part of the best political ability of the country. The real leaders, who had evolved it from the incoherent chaos of earlier years, impressed their energetic characters upon the organization, and prescribed for it such formula of faith as it yet had, were Seward and Chase. To one of them the nomination was clearly due. Seward preferred to wait four years. It was not deemed prudent to nominate Chase. On the first formal ballot John C. Fremont was nominated. For the office of Vice-President Abraham Lincoln received 110 votes, but was fortunately defeated. The platform declared it to be "the right and duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery," condemned in scathing terms the conduct of affairs in Kansas and demanded its immediate admission under the Topeka Constitution.
An exciting campaign followed. Rallies, parades, fireworks and theatrical displays were lavishly provided by the sanguine Republicans. Their orators filled the land with eloquent denunciation of the Pierce Administration and the Buchanan platform. Much as it outwardly resembled the log cabin and hard cider campaign of 1840, it was wholly different in character. The Republicans were in serious earnest. They had well defined, though discordant opinions and convictions. But before the end of the contest it was clear that they had blundered in nominating the picturesque "pathfinder."
Douglas was not inactive during the campaign, being deeply interested, not only in the election of Buchanan, but in restoring Democratic supremacy in Illinois. He sold a hundred acres of land on the western limit of Chicago for a hundred thousand dollars and contributed with great liberality to the campaign fund, not only of his own State, but also of Pennsylvania. The Democrats won both States, which, with the entire vote of the South, elected Buchanan.
Millard Fillmore, a rather ghostly reminiscence of other days, had been nominated by the American and Whig parties and carried Maryland. The combined vote of Fremont and Fillmore exceeded that of Buchanan by nearly half a million. The Democrats were evidently approaching a crisis, and harmony, never so imperatively needed as now, was never so hopelessly unattainable.
Chapter X. Popular Sovereignty in the Supreme Court.
The anger of the world was rising against American slavery. It was confessedly a shocking anomaly in our system of universal freedom and democratic equality. The people of the slave States were inflexibly resolved to maintain and extend it in defiance of the rising sentiment of the age. For many years they had succeeded in holding their ground and stifling the anti-slavery agitation. They had vigilantly kept control of the Government. During sixty of the first sixty-eight years the presidential chair had been occupied by Southern men or their dependents. The Senate had uniformly, and the House usually, been under their sway. The Supreme Court had also been composed of Southern men. Now that slavery was forced to fight for its life, the South with increased energy sought the active support of all the departments of Government. Pierce was its humble servant. The efficient and imperious Douglas was serving it in the Senate, and Cass was an eager rival. The Northern Democracy followed their lead. A majority of the Supreme Court were zealous advocates of slavery. It was unfortunate for the South, and for Douglas, that the champions of Southern rights on the bench and their advocates in Congress could not have understood each other in advance. They were seeking to plant slavery on a safe foundation and gird it round with impregnable defenses. Douglas had promulgated the doctrine of squatter sovereignty with which the South was not satisfied. It was possible for the Court to devise a safer remedy for the threatened dangers.
In 1834, there was an army surgeon named Dr. Emmerson living in Missouri who owned a slave named Dred Scott. He was transferred to Fort Snelling in the Territory of Wisconsin and took his slave with him, but in 1838 he returned with him to his former home. He then sold Scott to a man named Sanford, who resided in New York, but kept his slaves in Missouri. In 1854 the slave brought an action in the United States Circuit Court of Missouri to recover his freedom, on the ground that he had been voluntarily taken into the Territory of Wisconsin, where, by the act of Congress known as the Missouri Compromise, slavery was prohibited. His case rested upon the rule that slavery, being the creature of positive municipal law, had no legal existence beyond the limits of the sovereignty creating or recognizing it. The law of Missouri establishing slavery was of no efficacy in Wisconsin. Hence, it was urged, when Dred was taken to that Territory, the relation of master and slave ended and he became a free man.
Upon its merit the case presented but one question: Was slavery forbidden in Wisconsin? There rose, however, a preliminary question of great importance. To give the Federal Court jurisdiction it was necessary to show that the plaintiff and defendant were citizens of different States. Scott alleged that he was a citizen of Missouri and Sanford a citizen of New York. The answer denied the jurisdiction of the Court for the reason that Scott was not a citizen of any State, being a negro slave, and hence not entitled to maintain his action. The Circuit Court overruled this plea, but held Scott to be still a slave, notwithstanding his sojourn in Wisconsin, and awarded him to Sandford. The case was taken to the Supreme Court and there argued by lawyers of great ability and learning. The Court found unusual difficulties in it, held it under advisement during the exciting summer of 1856, and directed a re-argument at the December term. On March 6th, 1857, two days after the inauguration of Buchanan, the Judges delivered their memorable opinions.
At this time the Court consisted of five Southern Democrats, two Northern Democrats, one Whig and one Republican. Chief Justice Taney wrote the opinion of the Court, and did it in a manner likely to preserve his name from early oblivion. Judges McLean and Curtis filed dissenting opinions.
The Court, after holding that Scott could not maintain his action for want of citizenship, decided among other things that: "Whatever the General Government acquires it acquires for the benefit of the people of the several States who created it. It is their trustee, acting for them and charged with the duty of promoting the interests of the whole people of the Union. * * * * The right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution. The right to traffic in it, like an ordinary article of merchandise and property, is guaranteed to the citizens of the United States. * * * * The Government * * * is pledged to protect it in all future time. * * * * The act of Congress which prohibits a citizen from holding and owning property of this kind in the territory of the United States north of the line mentioned (36 degrees 30 minutes) is not warranted by the Constitution and is therefore void. * * * * * If Congress cannot do this it will be admitted that it could not authorize a territorial legislature to do it."
Thousands of copies of the opinion of Judge Taney were printed and distributed among the people by the Democrats who, at first, were so elated over the blow dealt to the Republican fanatics that they overlooked the fact that the decision was even more fatal to the favorite doctrine of the Northern wing of their own party.
The dissenting opinions were printed in enormous numbers by Republican committees and distributed among the anti-slavery people of the Northern and Middle States. Far from settling the controversy, the powerful conflicting opinions confirmed the already inveterate prejudices and disclosed with scientific clearness the fact, long dimly felt, that there existed two fundamentally different and irreconcilably hostile theories of government among the people which must sooner or later grapple for the mastery. Naturally among Northern Democrats the first emotion on hearing of the decision was exultation over the disastrous reverse suffered by the Republicans, whose whole political creed seemed annihilated. They had declared in sounding phrase that it was the duty of Congress to wipe from the Territories those twin relics of barbarism, slavery and polygamy; and promptly the Supreme Court had decided that Congress had no such power. But it soon grew uncomfortably clear to them that while the decision upset the favorite dogma of the Republicans, it was utterly inconsistent with the doctrine of popular sovereignty, the fundamental tenet of Northern Democratic faith. The decision was not only a victory of the Democrats over the Republicans, but a complete victory of the Southern slave-holding Democracy over that of the free North.
To Douglas the situation in which this left his party was disastrous. Restlessly active and efficient as he had been in the practical management of political affairs, his distinctive achievement had been the powerful advocacy of the doctrine of popular sovereignty, of which, if not the original author, he was at least the chief sponsor. With this doctrine his fame as a statesman was indissolubly linked. On its success the unity of the Northern wing of his party depended; on which hung his hopes of victory.
Two days before the opinion was announced President Buchanan in his inaugural address reminded the people that the great question which had agitated them so long would soon be settled by the Supreme court and bespoke general acquiescence in its decision. This unhappy allusion gave rise to the unpleasant suspicion that the relation between the new President and the Supreme Court in their common service of the South was unduly intimate.
Had Douglas been great enough to sink the politician in the statesman, he would now have broken with the Southern wing of his party, which had contemptuously repudiated his entire system of political doctrines; he would have rejected the new dogma imposed upon his party by the Southern dictators and led the assault upon this new creed, which was not only fatal to himself as a National statesman, but could not fail ultimately to prove fatal to his party and involve his country in the horrors of civil war. His squatter sovereignty was pitiful enough. But this new doctrine, announced by the Supreme Court, and approved by the President and his party, stripped the settlers in the Territories of all semblance of sovereignty and planted slavery among them by the self-acting energy of the Constitution, in utter disregard of their wishes. On the most important question then pending his party had reached a conclusion which he believed to be utterly wrong. But it was his opinion that moral ideas had no place in politics. He could not break with the powerful party which he had led so long. He could not unqualifiedly endorse the new doctrine without stultifying himself. He attempted the impossible task of reconciling the new creed with that which he had preached in the past.
The United States Grand Jury at Springfield invited him to address the people of that city on the questions of the time. He spoke on the 12th of June, 1857, to a large and enthusiastic audience. He assured the people that he cordially accepted the decision and that it was in perfect harmony with his favorite doctrine of squatter sovereignty. The master's right to his slave in the Territories he admitted was guaranteed by the Constitution and neither Congress nor the legislature could interfere with it; yet practically this right was worthless unless sustained, protected and enforced by appropriate police regulations and local legislation prescribing adequate remedies for its violation. These regulations and remedies must depend entirely upon the will and wishes of the people of the Territory, as they could only be prescribed by the local legislature. Hence, the great principle of popular sovereignty and self-government was sustained and firmly established by the authority of the decision.
Perhaps, as pointed out by a recent historian, it would have been wiser for Douglas to have planted himself on the sound legal proposition that the only question decided by the Court was that it had no jurisdiction of the cause and that everything in the opinion beyond this was mere obiter dicta determining nothing. But it was no easy matter for a politician in 1857 to explain to a popular audience that a small fraction of the opinion of the highest Court was binding, while the remainder was merely the private opinion of the Judges on a matter not before them. Had Douglas been defending his opinions before a bench of trained jurists he might have safely rested his case on this sound but technical rule. He afterwards did so justify his opinions in the Senate. An experience politician determined to carry a popular election in a dangerous crisis might well hesitate to attempt so doubtful an experiment. History would have less temptation to call him a demagogue had he pursued that course. But we may well doubt whether, considered as a problem of practical politics, he was not wise in depending on his ingenious sophistry, rather than on this sound legal proposition.
Two weeks after his speech Lincoln addressed the people of Springfield in reply, pointing out the fallacy of Douglas' chief argument. But Lincoln was still an obscure lawyer; Douglas was the omnipotent Senator whose ipse dixit was final and carried conviction to the uncritical multitude.
Chapter XI. Popular Sovereignty in Congress.
While the Supreme Court was dedicating the Territories to slavery and Douglas was preaching local nullification, anarchy continued its delirious dance in Kansas. Guerilla warfare continued to vex the Territory as with unconscious humor the settlers illustrated the doctrine of popular sovereignty in practical operation.
On January 12th, 1857, the legislature met at Lecompton. On the same day the pro-slavery party held a convention in which it was decided that it was useless to continue the struggle. But the more active and determined leaders were not so easily discouraged and decided with the aid of the Administration to force a pro-slavery Constitution upon the people and drag the young Commonwealth into the Union as a slave State. By the middle of February a bill passed the legislature providing for the holding of a Constitutional Convention. It made no provision for submitting the Constitution to a vote. Governor Geary vetoed it. The bill was at once passed over the veto. The election of delegates to the Convention was set for the 15th of June.
Among the earliest acts of the new President was the appointment of Ex-Senator Robert J. Walker of Mississippi as Governor of the Territory. Before going to his post of duty, Walker visited Douglas at Chicago for counsel and showed him his inaugural address, in which he declared that any Constitution adopted must be submitted to a vote of the resident citizens of the Territory. Douglas heartily approved this and with all sincerity wished the new Governor God-speed in his perilous enterprise. Walker arrived late in May. In the name of the President he promised that the election of delegates to the Convention should be free from fraud and violence and that the Constitution should be fairly submitted to a vote. Buchanan assured him that on the question of submitting the Constitution to the bona fide resident settlers he was willing to stand or fall.
When the election was held the Republicans, who numbered at least two-thirds of the voters of the Territory, committed the blunder of refusing to vote. It was within their power to control the Convention and dictate the Constitution. But their bitter experience had produced utter distrust of the Federal Government and silent rebellion against it. They had organized themselves into a band of rebels bent on maintaining their free State. The election resulted in the choice of a majority of rabid pro-slavery delegates.
The Convention which met on October 19th produced a unique Constitution, declaring that the right of property was before and higher than any constitutional sanction, that the right of the owner of a slave to such slave and his increase was the same and as inviolable as the right of the owner of any property whatever, and provided that it could not be amended before 1865, and then could not interfere with slavery. With exquisite ingenuity it was decided to call an election on December 21st and let the people vote on the question whether they were "for the Constitution with slavery," or "for the Constitution with no slavery." No vote against the Constitution was permitted. To make assurance doubly sure, it was provided that, if "the Constitution with no slavery" carried, slavery should not exist in the State except that the right of property in slaves then in the Territory should in no measure be interfered with.
Walker denounced it as a fraud. Buchanan in his feeble way intended at fist to support him. But the Southern hotspurs, who understood the vacillating old man, threatened secession and general ruin unless he adopted their program. He yielded and threw the whole influence of his office for the admission of the State with this Constitution.
But this was too much for the patient Northern Democrats. Murmurs of criticism, swelling to shouts of denunciation, were heard in the North without much regard to politics. Douglas, who was in Chicago when the news arrived of the attempted swindle, immediately denounced it and promised his strenuous opposition. The situation of Kansas was tragical. But that of Douglas was still more so. He had staked his standing as a statesman upon the establishment of the right of the settlers to mould their own institutions and had successfully urged the election of Buchanan on the solemn pledge that the principle of popular sovereignty would be faithfully applied. He had reached the parting of the ways. At the last election Michigan had defeated Cass for his political sins and elected the radical Chandler in his place. Would Illinois' patience last forever? Was it certain that the cool, deep-plotting Lincoln would not succeed in overthrowing his power if he accepted the program of his party? He must stand for reelection next year and Illinois sentiment could not be trifled with now. The rebellion of Northern Democrats against Southern policies was not limited to Michigan. If he would be President, he must retain his Northern Democratic support. He would gladly have the South, but he must have Illinois.
Already history has rendered a divided verdict upon this period of his life. He heartily abhorred the Kansas fraud and would really have liked to see the people given a fair chance to make a government for themselves. He believed in fair play and despised sharp practice and pettifogging tricks. He had the sincere faith in popular wisdom and virtue characteristic of the West. His cherished doctrine had been embodied in a ghastly abortion. His pledge to the people had been shamelessly broken. While the course of honor happened to be that of prudence, Douglas was not incapable of choosing it from pure and unselfish patriotism.
The people of Kansas, outraged by the proceedings of the Convention, in large numbers petitioned the Governor to call a special session of the legislature to remedy the wrong. He summoned it to meet December 7th and it at once ordered the whole Constitution submitted to the people on January 4th. The election ordered by the Convention was held on December 21st. The free-State people declined to vote. "The Constitution with slavery" carried by a vote of 6,143 to 589. On January 4th the pro-slavery men took part in the election of State officers, but refused to vote on the Constitution, holding that the legislature had no power to submit it. More than ten thousand votes were cast against the Constitution and another set of officers for an imaginary state selected.
The Constitution was sent to Buchanan to be submitted to Congress. This was the beginning of Douglas' official relation to the affair.
Congress met on the 5th of December. When Douglas reached Washington he called on the President to discuss the program for the winter. He told him that it would never do to send the Constitution to Congress for approval. It violated the plighted faith of the President and his party. His advice was that it be summarily rejected. Buchanan must submit it and recommend its approval. Douglas told him he would denounce it in the Senate. The President, excited and alarmed, rose from his seat and said, with great solemnity:
"Mr. Douglas, I desire you to remember that no Democrat ever yet differed from an Administration of his own choice without being crushed;" then he bade him beware of the fate of certain noted insurgents in the old Jackson-VanBuren days.
"Mr. President," replied Douglas, "I wish you to remember that General Jackson is dead."
On the 8th of December Buchanan transmitted his first message to Congress, which satisfied the world that he had abandoned such faint convictions as he had theretofore had and surrendered unconditionally to the South. He confessed that he had formerly pledged himself that the Constitution should be submitted to a vote of the people. But he said he had reached the conclusion that the only question upon which it was important to take the popular judgement was that of slavery. This question could not be more clearly or distinctly submitted than it would be under the ordinance of the Convention on December 21st. Should the Constitution without slavery be adopted, it, of course guarded the right of property in all slaves then in the Territory; but that was only common justice.
It was a great day in Washington. As a leading statesman declared, "the Administration had staked their all upon sustaining the Kansas Constitution, * * * * but Douglas was against it, decidedly, but not extravagantly." It was felt that a great storm was brewing, but of so uncertain and mysterious a character that no one knew what to expect. Douglas, who had theretofore scoffed at moral ideas in politics, had turned stern moralist, though still protesting his old cynical indifference, and was declaring inexpiable war on those whose champion he had been on a hundred hard fought fields. And strange to say, the allies with whom he was now to join hands, were Seward and Hale, perhaps even Chase and Sumner.
When the message was read on the 8th, he moved that 15,000 extra copies of it be printed for the use of the Senate and announced his intention to attack that part of it relating to Kansas. The next day when he rose to speak the galleries were thronged with an eager multitude. He congratulated the country that the President had not endorsed the Constitution or recommended its approval, but had only expressed his own satisfaction with it. He patronizingly apologized for Buchanan's error in supposing that the Kansas-Nebraska act provided only for the submission of the slavery question to a vote, recalling the fact that, at the time that act was passed he was representing the country with great wisdom and distinction at a foreign court and had never given the matter serious thought.
They had, in fact, repealed the Missouri Compromise and justified it everywhere on the ground that the people of the Territories had the right to form all their institutions according to their will. The President's later doctrine was in error, radical, fundamental, subversive of the platform on which he was elected. His suggestion that the Convention, throughout the territorial legislature, had the implied sanction of Congress, was without foundation. The Toombs bill expressly authorizing the calling of a Convention had recently passed the Senate, but was defeated in the House, clearly indicating that Congress disapproved it. The legislature could not give consent for Congress which it had itself refused. The Administration of Jackson solemnly decided in the case of Arkansas that a Territory had no right to hold a Constitutional Convention until Congress passed an act authorizing it. The Lecompton Convention differed from the Topeka Convention only in this; that the latter was called in opposition to the will of the legislature, while the former was sanctioned by it. But that body was utterly without authority in the matter until Congress empowered it to act.
When the delegates to this Convention were elected everyone supposed that their work would be submitted to a vote. The President and his Cabinet so understood it. Governor Walker so understood it and pledged his own word and that of the President that it would be submitted. A form of submission had been devised such that all men might come forward freely and vote for the Constitution and no man was permitted to vote against it. This resembled the French election when the First Consul sent the soldiers to the polls telling them to vote just as they pleased; but adding, "if you vote for Napoleon all is well; if you vote against him you will be shot." The objection to submitting the Constitution to a vote was that it would be voted down.
"Sir," he said, "my honor is pledged; and before it shall be tarnished I will take whatever consequences personal to myself may come; but never ask me to do an act which the President in his message has said is a forfeiture of faith, a violation of honor. * * * I will go as far as any of you to save the party. I have as much heart in the great cause that binds us together as any man living. I will sacrifice anything short of principle and honor for the peace of the party; but if the party will not stand by its principles, its faith, its pledges, I will stand there and abide whatever consequences may result from the position. * * * It is none of my business which way the slavery clause is decided. I care not whether it is voted up or voted down."
He urged the wisdom of passing a fair enabling act authorizing the people to hold a Constitutional Convention and providing for the submission of its work to the people and the orderly admission of the State. "But if this Constitution is to be forced down our throats," he continued, "in violation of the fundamental principles of free government, under a mode of submission that is a mockery and an insult, I will resist it to the last. I have no fear of any party associations being severed; * * * but if it must be, if I cannot act with you and preserve my faith and honor, I will stand on the great principle of popular sovereignty which declares the right of all people to be left perfectly free to form and regulate their institutions in their own way."
This remarkable speech was recognized by all who heard it as marking an epoch, not merely in the life of the orator, but in the evolution of party politics at a time when parties were bending in death grapple and them most portentous civil war in history was looming in the distance. The speech was a clean, powerful, dispassionate argument delivered with an air of dignity and fortitude that greatly mollified the hearts of his old enemies.
Bigler of Pennsylvania, rising to defend the President, reminded the Senate that only a short year ago Douglas had voted for the Toombs bill, which provided for the holding of a Constitutional Convention without submitting its work to the people. Douglas protested that he did not so understand the bill and challenged Bigler for evidence that a single Senator so understood it. A remarkable dialogue followed. Bigler, who was a Democrat and a humble admirer of Douglas, said:
"I was present when that subject was discussed by Senators before the bill was introduced, and the question whether the Constitution when formed should be submitted to a vote of the people. It was held by those most intelligent on the subject that * * * it would be better that there should be no (such) provision in the Toombs bill; and it was my understanding * * * that the Convention would make a Constitution and send it here without submitting it to the popular vote."
Douglas inquired, angrily, whether he meant to insinuate that he had been present at any such conference. Bigler hesitated and sought to avoid the disclosure of the proceedings at their secret caucus, but Douglas impetuously released him from all secrecy and challenged him, if he knew, to declare, that, directly or indirectly, publicly or privately, anywhere on the face of the earth, he was ever present at such a consultation when it was called to his attention and he agreed to approve a Constitution without submitting it to the people.
Bigler, who had an uneasy suspicion that he was improperly disclosing party secrets, could not decline the challenge, and replied that he remembered very well that the question was discussed at a conference held at Douglas' own house. "It was then urged," he said, "by Toombs, that there should be no provision for the submission of the Constitution to the people." He did not remember whether Douglas took part in the discussion, but his own understanding of the sense of the caucus was that the Convention should have the right to make a Constitution and send it directly to Congress for approval.
Douglas protested that he was innocent of any such conspiracy. He confessed that his attention was called to the fact that no provision was made in the Toombs bill for the submission of the Constitution, but his understanding was that, powers not delegated being reserved, it would, of course, be submitted. Bigler reminded him that, while he had taken this for granted in the case of Kansas, he had about the same time drafted a bill for the admission of Minnesota in which he took care to provide in express terms that the Constitution must be submitted. If he then thought general principles of law secured the submission of the Kansas Constitution without providing for it in the enabling act, why this care to expressly provide for it in the Minnesota act?
He was now swimming amid perilous breakers. He had thrown down the gage of battle to his party. In the twinkling of an eye he was transformed from recognized chief to a rebel; but he was isolated and unsupported. He could not consort with Republicans. The rankling wounds of the by-gone years could not heal so suddenly. Moreover, he did not want their society. He intended to remain a Democrat and hoped to force upon his party such policies that Illinois and the Northwest would be solidly at his back. With the Democratic States of the North standing firmly with him he could still dictate terms to the South, which would have to choose between Northern Democrats and Northern Republicans.
Chapter XII. The Lecompton Constitution.
On February 2nd Buchanan sent to Congress his message, transmitting the Lecompton Constitution and urging its approval. As apology for his change of front and excuse for a like change in others he drew a dark picture of the disturbed condition of affairs in the Territory, portraying the Topeka free State enterprise as a vast insurrectionary movement. He told Congress that it was impossible to submit the whole instrument to a vote because the free State faction, who were the majority, would vote against any Constitution, however perfect, except their own. He commended the entire regularity of the Lecompton Convention and the fairness with which the slavery question had been submitted to a vote and urged immediate admission.
When the motion to print and refer to the Committee on Territories was made, Trumbull denounced the message with great energy and at some length. He asked sneeringly what had become of the once celebrated principle of popular sovereignty? The people of Kansas were denied the right of voting on their Constitution at all and the Dred Scott decision had settled that at no stage had the people of a Territory power to interfere with slavery. The whole doctrine, he declared, had been absolutely repudiated.
The message having been referred to the Committee on Territories after six days' debate, on the 18th of February a bill was reported by a majority of the Committee for the admission of Kansas into the Union under the Lecompton Constitution and Douglas presented a minority report protesting against it. For two weeks he was confined to his room by sickness, but, as the day for the vote was near, notice was given that he would speak on the 22nd of March.
On that day the Senate met at the early hour of ten. Already the galleries were crowded. Long before noon the passages leading to the Chamber were thronged with men and women vainly seeking admission. In a moment of graceful gallantry the Senators admitted the ladies to the floor. Through long hours of debate the crowd waited. The Senate adjourned until seven o'clock, at which time Douglas was to speak. The visitors who were lucky enough to have gained admission waited with patient good humor for the return of the Senators, who at last began to force their way back into the Chamber through the dense throngs.
A little before seven the short figure of Douglas was observed at the door and he was greeted with loud applause from the galleries. The session resumed and he rose to speak. Cheered as he was by the sympathy and admiration of the visitors, it was to him a stern enough hour when he must finally break with his powerful party and battle with his utmost strength against its cherished program. He must attack, not Buchanan, but the organized Democracy, now more powerfully entrenched than ever before. It controlled the President and the Supreme Court and had bent them to its will in this precise quarrel. The Senate was Democratic nearly two to one, and but two of the majority followed him in his revolt. In the House the Democrats had a majority of twenty-five.
Foreseeing the personal consequences of his act, he opened his speech with an elaborate review of his course in Congress in relation to slavery in the Territories, showing that from the beginning he had favored leaving the whole question fairly to the inhabitants. He stood on the principle of the Compromise of 1850 as approved and interpreted by the legislature of Illinois in 1851. That body had declared that the people of a Territory had a right to form such government as they chose. But was the Lecompton Constitution the act and deed of the people of Kansas? Did it embody their will? If not, Congress had no right to impose it on them. Where was the evidence that it did embody their will? By a fraudulent vote on December 12th it was adopted by 5,500 majority. By a fair vote on January 4th it was defeated by 10,000 majority. The election on December 21st was ordered by the Lecompton Convention, deriving its authority from the territorial legislature. The legislature itself ordered the election on January 4th. Granting the argument that the organic act was in effect an enabling act, then the territorial legislature had power to authorize the Lecompton Convention and also to order it work submitted to a vote. The legislature either had the full power of Congress over the subject or it had none.
But, it was claimed, the Constitution would have been voted down if submitted. What right had Congress to force it upon the people? It was a mockery to call it an embodiment of their will and a crime to attempt to enforce it. If it ever became the Constitution of Kansas it would be the act of Congress that made it so and not the decision of the people. That it could be changed thereafter was no apology for this outrage. It was as much a violation of fundamental principle, a violation of popular sovereignty, to force a Constitution on an unwilling people for a day as for a year or for a longer time.
If a few thousand Free Soilers had fabricated a Constitution in this fashion, prohibiting slavery forever, would the gentlemen from the South have submitted to the outrage? They were asked to admit Kansas with a State government brought into existence not only by fraudulent voting but forged returns sustained by perjury.
He paused to comment on certain diatribes in the Washington Union which had denounced him as a renegade, traitor and deserter, and read from its columns an article presenting the extreme claims of the South, arguing that all laws and Constitutions of the free States forbidding slavery were violations of the Federal Constitution, and that the emancipation of slaves in the Northern States was a gross outrage on the rights of property. But this article, he said, was in harmony with the Lecompton Constitution, which declared the right of property in a slave to be higher than Constitutions. This meant that the Constitutions of the free States forbidding slavery were in conflict with the Constitution of the United States and of no validity. Hence slavery had right to exist in all the States. But this was not the authentic Democratic faith, which left the whole question to the option of the several States. If each one took care of its own affairs, minded its own business and let its neighbors alone, there would be peace in the country. Seward had proclaimed a higher law which forbade slavery everywhere. this instrument and the Administration paper proclaimed a higher law which established it in all the States. It was time to quit this folly and yield obedience to the Constitution and laws of the land.
It was the most arrant presumption for the Administration to attempt to make this a party measure. By what right did these accidental and temporary holders of office prescribe party politics? There had been no Convention, not even a caucus, since this question arose. The party was not committed. The President had no right to tell a Senator his duty and command his allegiance. He had no power to prescribe tests. A Senator's first duty was to his State. "If the will of my State is one way and the will of the President is the other, am I to be told that I must obey the Executive and betray my State, or else be branded as a traitor to the party and hunted down by all the newspapers that share the patronage of the Government? And every man who holds a petty office in any part of my State to have the question put to him, 'Are you Douglas' enemy? If not, your head comes off.'"
What despotism on earth could equal this? The obedience of Senators was demanded on this question only. On all else they were free. The President was evidently guided by the old adage that a man needs no friends when he knows he is right and only want his friends to stand by him when he is wrong.
The President regretted that the Constitution was not submitted to the people, although he knew that if it had been submitted it would have been rejected. Hence, he regretted that it had not been rejected. Would he regret that it had not been submitted and rejected if he did not think it was wrong? And yet, he demanded their assistance in forcing it on an unwilling people and threatened vengeance on all who refused.
"For my part," he continued, * * * "come what may, I intend to vote, speak and act according to my own sense of duty, so long as I hold a seat in this Chamber. * * * I have no professions to make of my fidelity. I have no vindication to make of my course. Let it speak for itself. * * * I intend to perform my duty in accordance with my own convictions. Neither the frowns of power nor the influence of patronage will change my action, nor drive me from my principles. I stand firmly and immovably upon those great principles of self-government and State sovereignty upon which the campaign was fought and won. I stand by the time honored principles of the Democratic party, illustrated by Jefferson and Jackson, those principles of State rights, of State sovereignty, of strict construction, upon which the great Democratic party has ever stood. I will stand by the Constitution of the United States with all its compromises and perform all my obligations under it. I will stand by the American Union as it exists under the Constitution. If standing firmly by my principles I shall be driven into private life, it is a fate that has no terrors for me. * * * If the alternative be private life or servile obedience to the Executive will, I am prepared to retire. Official position has no charm for me when deprived of that freedom of thought and action which becomes a gentleman and a Senator."
When he closed, Toombs rose to reply. The speech was offensively bitter and personal, in one memorable passage of which he announced that the slave States would take care of themselves and were prepared to bid defiance to the North and to the world. Green of Missouri answered in coarser strain, both intimating that Douglas had been guilty of deliberate perfidy in his change of front.
On the 23rd the vote was taken and the bill passed, 33 being for it and 25 against it.
The Administration now declared war on him. The patronage was unsparingly used against his friends and it was better for an applicant for Federal appointment to be accused of any crime than suspected of friendship with Douglas. This separation from his party touched his feelings more deeply than any other event of his life, and we find surprising evidence of his being shaken by deep emotions that seem out of harmony with his robust and unsentimental nature. But when we remember that all his life had been spent in the activities of politics, that his thoughts, sentiments and passions had all been political for twenty years, that the Democratic platform was at once his creed and his philosophy, we can understand something of the choking emotion that threatened to overpower him as he announced that he was thenceforth a rebel and a heretic. After December 9th, the Administration press attacked him bitterly and he found himself everywhere proclaimed a traitor and deserter. He told the Senate that he knew the knife would be put to the throats of his followers. The Administration Senators assailed him. But he was equal to all emergencies and his new position as the recognized leader of the anti-Lecompton revolt gave him the enthusiastic applause of the Northwest.
On March 23rd the bill went to the House. A motion was made to refer it to a special committee. A contest over this motion arose, lasted all night, and degenerated into a general brawl, in which a Member from Pennsylvania knocked down a South Carolina Member, and many others were engaged in fisticuffs. At last a reference was agreed to.
On April 1st, while the House had the bill under consideration, Montgomery of Pennsylvania offered a substitute which had been offered by Crittenden in the Senate and there rejected, providing that the Constitution should be submitted to a vote, and, if adopted, the President should at once proclaim the admission of the State; if rejected, the inhabitants should hold a new Constitutional Convention. This substitute passed the House but was rejected by the Senate. A conference Committee was appointed, which reported the notorious English bill, providing that a generous grant of land should be offered to Kansas, and the people at a special election vote to accept it. If they so voted, they were to be admitted as a State with the Lecompton Constitution. If they rejected the grant, they could not be admitted until they numbered 93,000, which meant indefinite postponement. The bill was merely an offer of a bribe to the people to accept a Constitution which they abhorred. Its form was such that men who still believe it well to maintain the guise of decency could vote for it on the pretence that it was a land grant.
Douglas, who had now tried the thorny path of rebellion, faltered. He was tempted to support the bill and seek reconciliation, but decided to vote against it. It passed the Senate by a majority of nine and the House by a majority of eight. In the following August the proposition was submitted and rejected so decisively that the maddest fanatic must have seen that all hope of making Kansas a slave State was gone forever.
Chapter XIII. The Illinois Campaign.
Congress adjourned on June 16th and Douglas, after spending a few days in New York, returned to Chicago. Meanwhile the people of Illinois had awakened to great political activity. On April 21st the regular Democratic Convention was held at Springfield and without opposition passed a resolution endorsing his candidacy for re-election. On June 9th the "Administration Democracy," consisting of the Federal office holders and those democrats who condemned his anti-Lecompton battle, held a Convention at Springfield, the purpose of which was to divide the party and insure his defeat. On the 17th the Republicans held their Convention at Springfield and chose Lincoln as their candidate for United States Senator.
The nomination of Lincoln was not an accident. He was prepared to accept it in a speech that should serve as the text of his campaign and was destined to great fame in after years. Against the resolve of his friends he announced the dangerous doctrine that the Government could not endure permanently half slave and half free. "A house divided against itself cannot stand." He did not expect the Union to be dissolved or the house to fall, but that it would cease to be divided. "Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new, North as well as South."
The repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the establishment of squatter sovereignty was a great step towards the nationalization of slavery. This was followed by the Dred Scott decision forbidding Congress to interfere with it in the Territories. All the legislation of Congress had carefully reserved a place for this expected decision. Douglas had hinted it in the Senate long before it was announced. Pierce and Buchanan had proclaimed it before the Judges. "We cannot absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and different place, and by different workmen,—Stephen, Franklin, Roger and James, for instance,—and when we see these timbers all joined together and see they exactly make the frame of a house or mill, all the tenons and mortises exactly fitting, * * * * * we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first blow was struck."
He repelled the suggestion made in some quarters that the Republicans ought to cease their fight on Douglas and rally to his support in his contest with the slavery propagandists. He reminded them that the very essence of Republican faith was hostility to slavery, while Douglas frankly declared that he did not care whether it was voted up or voted down. The cause must be entrusted to those whose hearts were in the work and who did care for the result.
On the 9th of July Douglas returned to Chicago and received a royal welcome. A special train loaded with prominent citizens was dispatched to meet him. On his arrival he was greeted with tumultuous applause. He addressed the vast multitude from the balcony of the Tremont House. Thirty thousand people are said to have gathered to hear him. He was profoundly pleased by this splendid ovation so strikingly in contrast with the reception four years before, when his neighbors refused even to hear him in defense of his course. Among the distinguished visitors on the speakers' stand sat Lincoln.
After thanking his audience for the enthusiastic reception, he plunged into the subject then uppermost in the public mind by rehearsing his relation to the whole Kansas problem. He reminded them of his early and consistent devotion to popular sovereignty, which had been so utterly outraged by the Lecompton Constitution. He assured his hearers, however, that his opposition to that Constitution arose from no sentimental morality and bore no relation to the ethics of slavery. He insisted, not that it be good or just, but that it be submitted to a vote of the settlers.
He then addressed himself to Lincoln's Springfield speech. He attacked his extreme doctrines with characteristic adroitness. Lincoln's speech was of doubtful prudence as a campaign argument. It really foreboded civil war or a peaceful dissolution of the Union. While this alternative was, perhaps, inevitable, political expediency forbade its avowal. Douglas declared the necessary result of his philosophy to be a war of sections, a war of the North against the South, of the free States against the slave States, to be continued relentlessly until the one or the other should be subdued and all should either become free States or all become slave States. But this was not the true theory of the American Union. The States differed widely in soil, climate, resources, tastes and habits. Their laws and institutions were utterly unlike. New Hampshire's laws were unfit for South Carolina; those of New York were not suited to the Pacific Coast. Uniformity in local and domestic affairs would be destructive of State rights, State sovereignty and personal liberty. Uniformity was the parent of despotism the world over. The only way of attaining Lincoln's proposed uniformity would be to abolish State legislatures, blot out State sovereignty and merge the States into one consolidated empire. But diversity, dissimilarity, variety in all their local and domestic institutions was the great safeguard of their liberties. He insisted on reverently bowing to the Supreme Court as the authoritative expounder of the Constitution, rather than appealing from it to a tumultuous town meeting where constitutional questions arose. The Federal Government was founded on the white basis. It was made by white men, for the benefits of white men, to be administered by white men in such manner as they should determine. Let each State decide for itself how it would treat the negroes and let its neighbors alone.