[The reader desirous for further information relative to the administration of the War Department during this period may find it in the various official reports and estimates of works of defense prosecuted or recommended, arsenals of construction and depots of arms maintained or suggested, and foundries employed, during the Presidency of Mr. Pierce, 1853-'57.]
Having been again elected by the Legislature of Mississippi as Senator to the United States, I passed from the Cabinet of Mr. Pierce, on the last day of his term (March 4, 1857), to take my seat in the Senate.
The Administration of Franklin Pierce presents the only instance in our history of the continuance of a Cabinet for four years without a single change in its personnel. When it is remembered that there was much dissimilarity if not incongruity of character among the members of that Cabinet, some idea may be formed of the power over men possessed and exercised by Mr. Pierce. Chivalrous, generous, amiable, true to his friends and to his faith, frank and bold in the declaration of his opinions, he never deceived any one. And, if treachery had ever come near him, it would have stood abashed in the presence of his truth, his manliness, and his confiding simplicity.
[Footnote 11: Soon after my entrance upon duty as secretary of War, General Jesup, the Quartermaster-General, presented to me a list of names from which to make selection of a clerk for his department. Observing that he had attached certain figures to these names, I asked whether the figures were intended to indicate the relative qualifications, or preference in his estimation, of the several applicants; and, upon his answer in the affirmative, without further question, authorized him to appoint "No. 1" of his list. A day or two afterward, certain Democratic members of Congress called on me and politely inquired whether it was true that I had appointed a Whig to a position in the War Office. "Certainly not," I answered. "We thought you were not aware of it," said they, and proceeded to inform me that Mr. ——, the recent appointee to the clerkship just mentioned, was a Whig. After listening patiently to this statement, I answered that it was they who were deceived, not I. I had appointed a clerk. He had been appointed neither as a Whig nor as a Democrat, but merely as the fittest candidate for the place in the estimation of the chief of the bureau to which it belonged. I further gave them to understand that the same principle of selection would be followed in similar cases, so far as my authority extended. After some further discussion of the question, the visitors withdrew, dissatisfied with the result of the interview.
The Quartermaster-General, on hearing of this conversation, hastened to inform me that it was all a mistake—that the appointee to the office had been confounded with his father, who was a well-known Whig, but that he (the son) was a Democrat. I assured the General that this was altogether immaterial, adding that it was "a very pretty quarrel" as it stood, and that I had no desire to effect a settlement of it on any inferior issue. Thenceforward, however, I was but little troubled with any pressure for political appointments in the department.]
The Territorial Question.—An Incident at the White House.—The Kansas and Nebraska Bill.—The Missouri Compromise abrogated in 1850, not in 1854.—Origin of "Squatter Sovereignty."—Sectional Rivalry and its Consequences.—The Emigrant Aid Societies.—"The Bible and Sharpe's Rifles."—False Pretensions as to Principle.—The Strife in Kansas.—A Retrospect.—The Original Equilibrium of Power and its Overthrow.—Usurpations of the Federal Government.—The Protective Tariff.—Origin and Progress of Abolitionism.—Who were the Friends of the Union?—An Illustration of Political Morality.
The organization of the Territory of Kansas was the first question that gave rise to exciting debate after my return to the Senate. The celebrated Kansas-Nebraska Bill had become a law during the Administration of Mr. Pierce. As this occupies a large space in the political history of the period, it is proper to state some facts connected with it, which were not public, but were known to me and to others yet living.
The declaration, often repeated in 1850, that climate and the will of the people concerned should determine their institutions when they should form a Constitution, and as a State be admitted into the Union, and that no legislation by Congress should be permitted to interfere with the free exercise of that will when so expressed, was but the announcement of the fact so firmly established in the Constitution, that sovereignty resided alone in the States, and that Congress had only delegated powers. It has been sometimes contended that, because the Congress of the Confederation, by the Ordinance of 1787, prohibited involuntary servitude in all the Northwestern Territory, the framers of the Constitution must have recognized such power to exist in the Congress of the United States. Hence the deduction that the prohibitory clause of what is known as the Missouri Compromise was justified by the precedent of the Ordinance of 1787. To make the action of the Congress of the Confederation a precedent for the Congress of the United States is to overlook the great distinction between the two.
The Congress of the Confederation represented the States in their sovereignty, and, as such representatives, had legislative, executive, and, in some degree, judicial power confided to it. Virtually, it was an assemblage of the States. In certain cases a majority of nine States were required to decide a question, but there is no express limitation, or restriction, such as is to be found in the ninth and tenth amendments to the Constitution of the United States. The General Government of the Union is composed of three departments, of which the Congress is the legislative branch, and which is checked by the revisory power of the judiciary, and the veto power of the Executive, and, above all, is expressly limited in legislation to powers expressly delegated by the States. If, then, it be admitted, which is certainly questionable, that the Congress of the Confederation had power to exclude slave property northwest of the Ohio River, that power must have been derived from its character as representing the States in their sovereignty, for no indication of such a power is to be found in the Articles of Confederation.
If it be assumed that the absence of a prohibition was equivalent to the admission of the power in the Congress of the Confederation, the assumption would avail nothing in the Congress under the Constitution, where power is expressly limited to what had been delegated. More briefly, it may be stated that the Congress of the Confederation could, like the Legislature of a State, do what had not been prohibited; but the Congress of the United States could only do what had been expressly permitted. It is submitted whether this last position is not conclusive against the possession of power by the United States Congress to legislate slavery into or exclude it from Territories belonging to the United States.
This subject, which had for more than a quarter of a century been one of angry discussion and sectional strife, was revived, and found occasion for renewed discussion in the organization of Territorial governments for Kansas and Nebraska. The Committees on Territories of the two Houses agreed to report a bill in accordance with that recognized principle, provided they could first be assured that it would receive favorable consideration from the President. This agreement was made on Saturday, and the ensuing Monday was the day (and the only day for two weeks) on which, according to the order of business established by the rules of the House of Representatives, the bill could be introduced by the Committee of that House.
On Sunday morning, the 22d of January, 1854, gentlemen of each Committee called at my house, and Mr. Douglas, chairman of the Senate Committee, fully explained the proposed bill, and stated their purpose to be, through my aid, to obtain an interview on that day with the President, to ascertain whether the bill would meet his approbation. The President was known to be rigidly opposed to the reception of visits on Sunday for the discussion of any political subject; but in this case it was urged as necessary, in order to enable the Committee to make their report the next day. I went with them to the Executive mansion, and, leaving them in the reception-room, sought the President in his private apartments, and explained to him the occasion of the visit. He thereupon met the gentlemen, patiently listened to the reading of the bill and their explanations of it, decided that it rested upon sound constitutional principles, and recognized in it only a return to that rule which had been infringed by the compromise of 1820, and the restoration of which had been foreshadowed by the legislation of 1850. This bill was not, therefore, as has been improperly asserted, a measure inspired by Mr. Pierce or any of his Cabinet. Nor was it the first step taken toward the repeal of the conditions or obligations expressed or implied by the establishment, in 1820, of the politico-sectional line of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes. That compact had been virtually abrogated, in 1850, by the refusal of the representatives of the North to apply it to the territory then recently acquired from Mexico. In May, 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Bill was passed; its purpose was declared in the bill itself to be to carry into practical operation the "propositions and principles established by the compromise measures of 1850" The "Missouri Compromise," therefore, was not repealed by that bill—its virtual repeal by the legislation of 1850 was recognized as an existing fact, and it was declared to be "inoperative and void."
It was added that the "true intent and meaning" of the act was "not to legislate slavery into any Territory or State, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States."
From the terms of this bill, as well as from the arguments that were used in its behalf, it is evident that its purpose was to leave the Territories equally open to the people of all the States, with every species of property recognized by any of them; to permit climate and soil to determine the current of immigration, and to secure to the people themselves the right to form their own institutions according to their own will, as soon as they should acquire the right of self-government; that is to say, as soon as their numbers should entitle them to organize themselves into a State, prepared to take its place as an equal, sovereign member of the Federal Union. The claim, afterward advanced by Mr. Douglas and others, that this declaration was intended to assert the right of the first settlers of a Territory, in its inchoate, rudimental, dependent, and transitional condition, to determine the character of its institutions, constituted the doctrine popularly known as "squatter sovereignty." Its assertion led to the dissensions which ultimately resulted in a rupture of the Democratic party.
Sectional rivalry, the deadly foe of the "domestic tranquillity" and the "general welfare," which the compact of union was formed to insure, now interfered, with gigantic efforts, to prevent that free migration which had been promised, and to hinder the decision by climate and the interests of the inhabitants of the institutions to be established by these embryo States. Societies were formed in the North to supply money and send emigrants into the new Territories; and a famous preacher, addressing a body of those emigrants, charged them to carry with them to Kansas "the Bible and Sharpe's rifles." The latter were of course to be leveled against the bosoms of their Southern brethren who might migrate to the same Territory, but the use to be made of the Bible in the same fraternal enterprise was left unexplained by the reverend gentleman.
The war-cry employed to train the Northern mind for the deeds contemplated by the agitators was "No extension of slavery!" Was this sentiment real or feigned? The number of slaves (as has already been clearly shown) would not have been increased by their transportation to new territory. It could not be augmented by further importation, for the law of the land made that piracy. Southern men were the leading authors of that enactment, and the public opinion of their descendants, stronger than the law, fully sustained it. The climate of Kansas and Nebraska was altogether unsuited to the negro, and the soil was not adapted to those productions for which negro labor could be profitably employed. If, then, any negroes held to service or labor, as provided in the compact of union, had been transported to those Territories, they would have been such as were bound by personal attachment mutually existing between master and servant, which would have rendered it impossible for the former to consider the latter as property convertible into money. As white laborers, adapted to the climate and its products, flowed into the country, negro labor would have inevitably become a tax to those who held it, and their emancipation would have followed that condition, as it has in all the Northern States, old or new—Wisconsin furnishing the last example. It may, therefore, be reasonably concluded that the "war-cry" was employed by the artful to inflame the minds of the less informed and less discerning; that it was adopted in utter disregard of the means by which negro emancipation might have been peaceably accomplished in the Territories, and with the sole object of obtaining sectional control and personal promotion by means of popular agitation.
The success attending this artifice was remarkable. To such an extent was it made available, that Northern indignation was aroused on the absurd accusation that the South had destroyed "that sacred instrument, the compromise of 1820." The internecine war which raged in Kansas for several years was substituted for the promised peace under the operation of the natural laws regulating migration to new countries. For the fratricide which dyed the virgin soil of Kansas with the blood of those who should have stood shoulder to shoulder in subduing the wilderness; for the frauds which corrupted the ballot-box and made the name of election a misnomer—let the authors of "squatter sovereignty" and the fomenters of sectional hatred answer to the posterity for whose peace and happiness the fathers formed the Federal compact.
In these scenes of strife were trained the incendiaries who afterward invaded Virginia under the leadership of John Brown; and at this time germinated the sentiments which led men of high position to sustain, with their influence and their money, this murderous incursion into the South.
Now was seen the lightning of that storm, the distant muttering of which had been heard so long, and against which the wise and the patriotic had given solemn warning, regarding it as the sign which portended a dissolution of the Union.
Diversity of interests and of opinions among the States of the Confederation had in the beginning presented great difficulties in the way of the formation of a more perfect union. The compact was the result of compromise between the States, at that time generally distinguished as navigating and agricultural, afterward as Northern and Southern. When the first census was taken, in 1790, there was but little numerical difference in the population of these two sections, and (including States about to be admitted) there was also an exact equality in the number of States. Each section had, therefore, the power of self-protection, and might feel secure against any danger of Federal aggression. If the disturbance of that equilibrium had been the consequence of natural causes, and the government of the whole had continued to be administered strictly for the general welfare, there would have been no ground for complaint of the result.
Under the old Confederation the Southern States had a large excess of territory. The acquisition of Louisiana, of Florida, and of Texas, afterward greatly increased this excess. The generosity and patriotism of Virginia led her, before the adoption of the Constitution, to cede the Northwest Territory to the United States. The "Missouri Compromise" surrendered to the North all the newly acquired region not included in the State of Missouri, and north of the parallel of thirty-six degrees and a half. The northern part of Texas was in like manner given up by the compromise of 1850; and the North, having obtained, by those successive cessions, a majority in both Houses of Congress, took to itself all the territory acquired from Mexico. Thus, by the action of the General Government, the means were provided permanently to destroy the original equilibrium between the sections.
Nor was this the only injury to which the South was subjected. Under the power of Congress to levy duties on imports, tariff laws were enacted, not merely "to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States," as authorized by the Constitution, but, positively and primarily, for the protection against foreign competition of domestic manufactures. The effect of this was to impose the main burden of taxation upon the Southern people, who were consumers and not manufacturers, not only by the enhanced price of imports, but indirectly by the consequent depreciation in the value of exports, which were chiefly the products of Southern States. The imposition of this grievance was unaccompanied by the consolation of knowing that the tax thus borne was to be paid into the public Treasury, for the increase of price accrued mainly to the benefit of the manufacturer. Nor was this all: a reference to the annual appropriations will show that the disbursements made were as unequal as the burdens borne—the inequality in both operating in the same direction.
These causes all combined to direct immigration to the Northern section; and with the increase of its preponderance appeared more and more distinctly a tendency in the Federal Government to pervert functions delegated to it, and to use them with sectional discrimination against the minority.
The resistance to the admission of Missouri as a State, in 1820, was evidently not owing to any moral or constitutional considerations, but merely to political motives; and the compensation exacted for granting what was simply a right, was the exclusion of the South from equality in the enjoyment of territory which justly belonged equally to both, and which was what the enemies of the South stigmatized as "slave territory," when acquired.
The sectional policy then indicated brought to its support the passions that spring from man's higher nature, but which, like all passions, if misdirected and perverted, become hurtful and, it may be, destructive. The year 1835 was marked by the public agitation for the abolition of that African servitude which existed in the South, which antedated the Union, and had existed in every one of the States that formed the Confederation. By a great misconception of the powers belonging to the General Government, and the responsibilities of citizens of the Northern States, many of those citizens were, little by little, brought to the conclusion that slavery was a sin for which they were answerable, and that it was the duty of the Federal Government to abate it. Though, at the date above referred to, numerically so weak, when compared with either of the political parties at the North, as to excite no apprehension of their power for evil, the public demonstrations of the Abolitionists were violently rebuked generally at the North. The party was contemned on account of the character of its leaders, and the more odious because chief among them was an Englishman, one Thompson, who was supposed to be an emissary, whose mission was to prepare the way for a dissolution of the Union. Let us hope that it was reverence for the obligations of the Constitution as the soul of the Union that suggested lurking danger, and rendered the supposed emissary for its destruction so odious that he was driven from a Massachusetts hall where he attempted to lecture. But bodies in motion will overcome bodies at rest, and the unreflecting too often are led by captivating names far from the principles they revere.
Thus, by the activity of the propagandists of abolitionism, and the misuse of the sacred word Liberty, they recruited from the ardent worshipers of that goddess such numbers as gave them in many Northern States the balance of power between the two great political forces that stood arrayed against each other; then and there they came to be courted by both of the great parties, especially by the Whigs, who had become the weaker party of the two. Fanaticism, to which is usually accorded sincerity as an extenuation of its mischievous tenets, affords the best excuse to be offered for the original abolitionists, but that can not be conceded to the political associates who joined them for the purpose of acquiring power; with them it was but hypocritical cant, intended to deceive. Hence arose the declaration of the existence of an "irrepressible conflict," because of the domestic institutions of sovereign, self-governing States—institutions over which neither the Federal Government nor the people outside of the limits of such States had any control, and for which they could have no moral or legal responsibility.
Those who are to come after us, and who will look without prejudice or excitement at the record of events which have occurred in our day, will not fail to wonder how men professing and proclaiming such a belief should have so far imposed upon the credulity of the world as to be able to arrogate to themselves the claim of being the special friends of a Union contracted in order to insure "domestic tranquillity" among the people of the States united; that they were the advocates of peace, of law, and of order, who, when taking an oath to support and maintain the Constitution, did so with a mental reservation to violate one of the provisions of that Constitution—one of the conditions of the compact—without which the Union could never have been formed. The tone of political morality which could make this possible was well indicated by the toleration accorded in the Senate to the flippant, inconsequential excuse for it given by one of its most eminent exemplars—"Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?"—meaning thereby, not that it would be the part of a dog to violate his oath, but to keep it in the matter referred to. (See Appendix D.)
[Footnote 12: Extract from a speech of Mr. Davis, of Mississippi, in the Senate of the United States, May 17, 1860: "There is a relation belonging to this species of property, unlike that of the apprentice or the hired man, which awakens whatever there is of kindness or of nobility of soul in the heart of him who owns it; this can only be alienated, obscured, or destroyed, by collecting this species of property into such masses that the owner is not personally acquainted with the individuals who compose it. In the relation, however, which can exist in the Northwestern Territories, the mere domestic connection of one, two, or at most half a dozen servants in a family, associating with the children as they grow up, attending upon age as it declines, there can be nothing against which either philanthropy or humanity can make an appeal. Not even the emancipationist could raise his voice; for this is the high-road and the open gate to the condition in which the masters would, from interest, in a few years, desire the emancipation of every one who may thus be taken to the northwestern frontier."]
[Footnote 13: See "Report of Senate Committee of Inquiry into the John Brown Raid."]
Agitation continued.—Political Parties: their Origin, Changes, and Modifications.—Some Account of the "Popular Sovereignty," or "Non-Intervention," Theory.—Rupture of the Democratic Party.—The John Brown Raid.—Resolutions introduced by the Author into the Senate on the Relations of the States, the Federal Government, and the Territories; their Discussion and Adoption.
The strife in Kansas and the agitation of the territorial question in Congress and throughout the country continued during nearly the whole of Mr. Buchanan's Administration, finally culminating in a disruption of the Union. Meantime the changes, or modifications, which had occurred or were occurring in the great political parties, were such as may require a word of explanation to the reader not already familiar with their history.
The names adopted by political parties in the United States have not always been strictly significant of their principles. The old Federal party inclined to nationalism, or consolidation, rather than federalization, of the States. On the other hand, the party originally known as Republican, and afterward as Democratic, can scarcely claim to have been distinctively or exclusively such in the primary sense of these terms, inasmuch as no party has ever avowed opposition to the general principles of government by the people. The fundamental idea of the Democratic party was that of the sovereignty of the States and the federal, or confederate, character of the Union. Other elements have entered into its organization at different periods, but this has been the vital, cardinal, and abiding principle on which its existence has been perpetuated. The Whig, which succeeded the old Federal party, though by no means identical with it, was, in the main, favorable to a strong central government, therein antagonizing the transatlantic traditions connected with its name. The "Know-Nothing," or "American," party, which sprang into existence on the decadence of the Whig organization, based upon opposition to the alleged overgrowth of the political influence of naturalized foreigners and of the Roman Catholic Church, had but a brief duration, and after the Presidential election of 1856 declined as rapidly as it had arisen.
At the period to which this narrative has advanced, the "Free-Soil," which had now assumed the title of "Republican" party, had grown to a magnitude which threatened speedily to obtain entire control of the Government. Based, as has been shown, upon sectional rivalry and opposition to the growth of the Southern equally with the Northern States of the Union, it had absorbed within itself not only the abolitionists, who were avowedly agitating for the destruction of the system of negro servitude, but other diverse and heterogeneous elements of opposition to the Democratic party. In the Presidential election of 1856, their candidates (Fremont and Dayton) had received 114 of a total of 296 electoral votes, representing a popular vote of 1,341,264 in a total of 4,053,967. The elections of the ensuing year (1857) exhibited a diminution of the so-called "Republican" strength, and the Thirty-fifth Congress, which convened in December of that year, was decidedly Democratic in both branches. In the course of the next two years, however, the Kansas agitation and another cause, to be presently noticed, had so swollen the ranks of the so-called Republicans, that, in the House of Representatives of the Thirty-sixth Congress, which met in December, 1859, neither party had a decided majority, the balance of power being held by a few members still adhering to the virtually extinct Whig and "American," or Know-Nothing, organizations, and a still smaller number whose position was doubtful or irregular. More than eight weeks were spent in the election of a Speaker; and a so-called "Republican" (Mr. Pennington, of New Jersey) was finally elected by a majority of one vote. The Senate continued to be decidedly Democratic, though with an increase of the so-called "Republican" minority.
The cause above alluded to, as contributing to the rapid growth of the so-called Republican party after the elections of the year 1857, was the dissension among the Democrats, occasioned by the introduction of the doctrine called by its inventors and advocates "popular sovereignty," or "non-intervention," but more generally and more accurately known as "squatter sovereignty." Its character has already been concisely stated in the preceding chapter. Its origin is generally attributed to General Cass, who is supposed to have suggested it in some general expressions of his celebrated "Nicholson letter," written in December, 1847. On the 16th and 17th of May, 1860, it became necessary for me in a debate, in the Senate, to review that letter of Mr. Cass. From my remarks then made, the following extract is taken:
"The Senator [Mr. Douglas] might have remembered, if he had chosen to recollect so unimportant a thing, that I once had to explain to him, ten years ago, the fact that I repudiated the doctrine of that letter at the time it was published, and that the Democracy of Mississippi had well-nigh crucified me for the construction which I placed upon it. There were men mean enough to suspect that the construction I gave to the Nicholson letter was prompted by the confidence and affection I felt for General Taylor. At a subsequent period, however, Mr. Cass thoroughly reviewed it. He uttered (for him) very harsh language against all who had doubted the true construction of his letter, and he construed it just as I had done during the canvass of 1848. It remains only to add that I supported Mr. Cass, not because of the doctrine of the Nicholson letter, but in despite of it; because I believed a Democratic President, with a Democratic Cabinet and Democratic counselors in the two Houses of Congress, and he as honest a man as I believed Mr. Cass to be, would be a safer reliance than his opponent, who personally possessed my confidence as much as any man living, but who was of, and must draw his advisers from, a party the tenets of which I believed to be opposed to the interests of the country, as they were to all my political convictions.
"I little thought at that time that my advocacy of Mr. Cass upon such grounds as these, or his support by the State of which I am a citizen, would at any future day be quoted as an endorsement of the opinions contained in the Nicholson letter, as those opinions were afterward defined. But it is not only upon this letter, but equally upon the resolutions of the Convention as constructive of that letter, that the Senator rested his argument. [I will here say to the Senator that, if at any time I do him the least injustice, speaking as I do from such notes as I could take while he progressed, I will thank him to correct me.]
"But this letter entered into the canvass; there was a doubt about its construction: there were men who asserted that they had positive authority for saying that it meant that the people of a Territory could only exclude slavery when the Territory should form a Constitution and be admitted as a State. This doubt continued to hang over the construction, and it was that doubt alone which secured Mr. Cass the vote of Mississippi. If the true construction had been certainly known, he would have had no chance to get it."
Whatever meaning the generally discreet and conservative statesman, Mr. Cass, may have intended to convey, it is not at all probable that he foresaw the extent to which the suggestions would be carried and the consequences that would result from it.
In the organization of a government for California in 1850, the theory was more distinctly advanced, but it was not until after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, in 1854, that it was fully developed under the plastic and constructive genius of the Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois. The leading part which that distinguished Senator had borne in the authorship and advocacy of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, which affirmed the right of the people of the Territories "to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States," had aroused against him a violent storm of denunciation in the State which he represented and other Northern States. He met it very manfully in some respects, defended his action resolutely, but in so doing was led to make such concessions of principle and to attach such an interpretation to the bill as would have rendered it practically nugatory—a thing to keep the promise of peace to the ear and break it to the hope.
The Constitution expressly confers upon Congress the power to admit new States into the Union, and also to "dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States." Under these grants of power, the uniform practice of the Government had been for Congress to lay off and divide the common territory by convenient boundaries for the formation of future States; to provide executive, legislative, and judicial departments of government for such Territories during their temporary and provisional period of pupilage; to delegate to these governments such authority as might be expedient—subject always to the supervision and controlling government of the Congress. Finally, at the proper time, and on the attainment by the Territory of sufficient strength and population for self-government, to receive it into the Union on a footing of entire equality with the original States—sovereign and self-governing. All this is no more inconsistent with the true principles of "popular sovereignty," properly understood, than the temporary subjection of a minor to parental control is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Declaration of Independence, or the exceptional discipline of a man-of-war or a military post with the principles of republican freedom.
The usual process of transition from a territorial condition to that of a State was, in the first place, by an act of Congress authorizing the inhabitants to elect representatives for a convention to form a State Constitution, which was then submitted to Congress for approval and ratification. On such ratification the supervisory control of Congress was withdrawn, and the new State authorized to assume its sovereignty, and the inhabitants of the Territory became citizens of a State. In the cases of Tennessee in 1796, and Arkansas and Michigan in 1836, the failure of the inhabitants to obtain an "enabling act" of Congress, before organizing themselves, very nearly caused the rejection of their applications for admission as States, though they were eventually granted on the ground that the subsequent approval and consent of Congress could heal the prior irregularity. The entire control of Congress over the whole subject of territorial government had never been questioned in earlier times. Necessarily conjoined with the power of this protectorate, was of course the duty of exercising it for the safety of the persons and property of all citizens of the United States, permanently or temporarily resident in any part of the domain belonging to the States in common.
Logically carried out, the new theory of "popular sovereignty" would apply to the first adventurous pioneers settling in the wilderness before the organization of any Territorial government by Congress, as well as afterward. If "sovereignty" is inherent in a thousand or five thousand persons, there can be no valid ground for denying its existence in a dozen, as soon as they pass beyond the limits of the State governments. The advocates of this novel doctrine, however, if rightly understood, generally disavowed any claim to its application prior to the organization of a territorial government.
The Territorial Legislatures, to which Congress delegated a portion of its power and duty to "make all needful rules and regulations respecting the Territory," were the mere agents of Congress, exercising an authority subject to Congressional supervision and control—an authority conferred only for the sake of convenience, and liable at any time to be revoked and annulled. Yet it is proposed to recognize in these provisional, subordinate, and temporary legislative bodies, a power not possessed by Congress itself. This is to claim that the creature is endowed with an authority not possessed by the creator, or that the stream has risen to an elevation above that of its source.
Furthermore, in contending for a power in the Territorial Legislatures permanently to determine the fundamental, social, and political institutions of the Territory, and thereby virtually to prescribe those of the future State, the advocates of "popular sovereignty" were investing those dependent and subsidiary bodies with powers far above any exercised by the Legislatures of the fully organized and sovereign States. The authority of the State Legislatures is limited, both by the Federal Constitution and by the respective State Constitutions from which it is derived. This latter limitation did not and could not exist in the Territories.
Strange as it may seem, a theory founded on fallacies so flimsy and leading to conclusions so paradoxical was advanced by eminent and experienced politicians, and accepted by many persons, both in the North and in the South—not so much, perhaps, from intelligent conviction as under the delusive hope that it would afford a satisfactory settlement of the "irrepressible conflict" which had been declared. The terms "popular sovereignty" and "non-intervention" were plausible, specious, and captivating to the public ear. Too many lost sight of the elementary truth that political sovereignty does not reside in unorganized or partially organized masses of individuals, but in the people of regularly and permanently constituted States. As to the "non-intervention" proposed, it meant merely the abnegation by Congress of its duty to protect the inhabitants of the Territories subject to its control.
The raid into Virginia under John Brown—already notorious as a fanatical partisan leader in the Kansas troubles—occurred in October, 1859, a few weeks before the meeting of the Thirty-sixth Congress. Insignificant in itself and in its immediate results, it afforded a startling revelation of the extent to which sectional hatred and political fanaticism had blinded the conscience of a class of persons in certain States of the Union; forming a party steadily growing stronger in numbers, as well as in activity. Sympathy with its purposes or methods was earnestly disclaimed by the representatives of all parties in Congress; but it was charged, on the other hand, that it was only the natural outgrowth of doctrines and sentiments which for some years had been freely avowed on the floors of both Houses. A committee of the Senate made a long and laborious investigation of the facts, with no very important or satisfactory results. In their final report, June 15, 1860, accompanying the evidence obtained and submitted, this Committee said:
"It [the incursion] was simply the act of lawless ruffians, under the sanction of no public or political authority, distinguishable only from ordinary felonies by the ulterior ends in contemplation by them, and by the fact that the money to maintain the expedition, and the large armament they brought with them, had been contributed and furnished by the citizens of other States of the Union under circumstances that must continue to jeopard the safety and peace of the Southern States, and against which Congress has no power to legislate.
"If the several States [adds the Committee], whether from motives of policy or a desire to preserve the peace of the Union, if not from fraternal feeling, do not hold it incumbent on them, after the experience of the country, to guard in future by appropriate legislation against occurrences similar to the one here inquired into, the Committee can find no guarantee elsewhere for the security of peace between the States of the Union."
On February 2, 1860, the author submitted, in the Senate of the United States, a series of resolutions, afterward slightly modified to read as follows
"1. Resolved, That, in the adoption of the Federal Constitution, the States, adopting the same, acted severally as free and independent sovereignties, delegating a portion of their powers to be exercised by the Federal Government for the increased security of each against dangers, domestic as well as foreign; and that any intermeddling by any one or more States, or by a combination of their citizens, with the domestic institutions of the others, on any pretext whatever, political, moral, or religious, with the view to their disturbance or subversion, is in violation of the Constitution, insulting to the States so interfered with, endangers their domestic peace and tranquillity—objects for which the Constitution was formed—and, by necessary consequence, tends to weaken and destroy the Union itself.
"2. Resolved, That negro slavery, as it exists in fifteen States of this Union, composes an important portion of their domestic institutions, inherited from our ancestors, and existing at the adoption of the Constitution, by which it is recognized as constituting an important element in the apportionment of powers among the States, and that no change of opinion or feeling on the part of the non-slaveholding States of the Union in relation to this institution can justify them or their citizens in open or covert attacks thereon, with a view to its overthrow; and that all such attacks are in manifest violation of the mutual and solemn pledge to protect and defend each other, given by the States respectively, on entering into the constitutional compact which formed the Union, and are a manifest breach of faith and a violation of the most solemn obligations.
"3. Resolved, That the Union of these States rests on the equality of rights and privileges among its members, and that it is especially the duty of the Senate, which represents the States in their sovereign capacity, to resist all attempts to discriminate either in relation to persons or property in the Territories, which are the common possessions of the United States, so as to give advantages to the citizens of one State which are not equally assured to those of every other State.
"4. Resolved, That neither Congress nor a Territorial Legislature, whether by direct legislation or legislation of an indirect and unfriendly character, possesses power to annul or impair the constitutional right of any citizen of the United States to take his slave property into the common Territories, and there hold and enjoy the same while the territorial condition remains.
"5. Resolved, That if experience should at any time prove that the judiciary and executive authority do not possess means to insure adequate protection to constitutional rights in a Territory, and if the Territorial government shall fail or refuse to provide the necessary remedies for that purpose, it will be the duty of Congress to supply such deficiency.
"6. Resolved, That the inhabitants of a Territory of the United States, when they rightfully form a Constitution to be admitted as a State into the Union, may then, for the first time, like the people of a State when forming a new Constitution, decide for themselves whether slavery, as a domestic institution, shall be maintained or prohibited within their jurisdiction; and they shall be received into the Union with or without slavery, as their Constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission.
"7. Resolved, That the provision of the Constitution for the rendition of fugitives from service or labor, 'without the adoption of which the Union could not have been formed,' and that the laws of 1793 and 1850, which were enacted to secure its execution, and the main features of which, being similar, bear the impress of nearly seventy years of sanction by the highest judicial authority, should be honestly and faithfully observed and maintained by all who enjoy the benefits of our compact of union; and that all acts of individuals or of State Legislatures to defeat the purpose or nullify the requirements of that provision, and the laws made in pursuance of it, are hostile in character, subversive of the Constitution, and revolutionary in their effect."
After a protracted and earnest debate, these resolutions were adopted seriatim, on the 24th and 25th of May, by a decided majority of the Senate (varying from thirty-three to thirty-six yeas against from two to twenty-one nays), the Democrats, both Northern and Southern, sustaining them unitedly, with the exception of one adverse vote (that of Mr. Pugh, of Ohio) on the fourth and sixth resolutions. The Republicans all voted against them or refrained from voting at all, except that Mr. Teneyck, of New Jersey, voted for the fifth and seventh of the series. Mr. Douglas, the leader if not the author of "popular sovereignty," was absent on account of illness, and there were a few other absentees.
The conclusion of a speech, in reply to Mr. Douglas, a few days before the vote was taken on these resolutions, is introduced here as the best evidence of the position of the author at that period of excitement and agitation:
Conclusion of Reply to Mr. Douglas, May 17, 1860.
"Mr. President: I briefly and reluctantly referred, because the subject had been introduced, to the attitude of Mississippi on a former occasion. I will now as briefly say that in 1851, and in 1860, Mississippi was, and is, ready to make every concession which it becomes her to make to the welfare and the safety of the Union. If, on a former occasion, she hoped too much from fraternity, the responsibility for her disappointment rests upon those who failed to fulfill her expectations. She still clings to the Government as our fathers formed it. She is ready to-day and to-morrow, as in her past and though brief yet brilliant history, to maintain that Government in all its power, and to vindicate its honor with all the means she possesses. I say brilliant history; for it was in the very morning of her existence that her sons, on the plains of New Orleans, were announced, in general orders, to have been the admiration of one army and the wonder of the other. That we had a division in relation to the measures enacted in 1850, is true; that the Southern rights men became the minority in the election which resulted, is true; but no figure of speech could warrant the Senator in speaking of them as subdued—as coming to him or anybody else for quarter. I deemed it offensive when it was uttered, and the scorn with which I repelled it at the instant, time has only softened to contempt. Our flag was never borne from the field. We had carried it in the face of defeat, with a knowledge that defeat awaited it; but scarcely had the smoke of the battle passed away which proclaimed another victor, before the general voice admitted that the field again was ours. I have not seen a sagacious, reflecting man, who was cognizant of the events as they transpired at the time, who does not say that, within two weeks after the election, our party was in a majority; and the next election which occurred showed that we possessed the State beyond controversy. How we have wielded that power it is not for me to say. I trust others may see forbearance in our conduct—that, with a determination to insist upon our constitutional rights, then and now, there is an unwavering desire to maintain the Government, and to uphold the Democratic party.
"We believe now, as we have asserted on former occasions, that the best hope for the perpetuity of our institutions depends upon the cooeperation, the harmony, the zealous action, of the Democratic party. We cling to that party from conviction that its principles and its aims are those of truth and the country, as we cling to the Union for the fulfillment of the purposes for which it was formed. Whenever we shall be taught that the Democratic party is recreant to its principles; whenever we shall learn that it can not be relied upon to maintain the great measures which constitute its vitality—I for one shall be ready to leave it. And so, when we declare our tenacious adherence to the Union, it is the Union of the Constitution. If the compact between the States is to be trampled into the dust; if anarchy is to be substituted for the usurpation and consolidation which threatened the Government at an earlier period; if the Union is to become powerless for the purposes for which it was established, and we are vainly to appeal to it for protection—then, sir, conscious of the rectitude of our course, the justice of our cause, self-reliant, yet humbly, confidingly trusting in the arm that guided and protected our fathers, we look beyond the confines of the Union for the maintenance of our rights. An habitual reverence and cherished affection for the Government will bind us to it longer than our interests would suggest or require; but he is a poor student of the world's history who does not understand that communities at last must yield to the dictates of their interests. That the affection, the mutual desire for the mutual good, which existed among our fathers, may be weakened in succeeding generations by the denial of right, and hostile demonstration, until the equality guaranteed but not secured within the Union may be sought for without it, must be evident to even a careless observer of our race. It is time to be up and doing. There is yet time to remove the causes of dissension and alienation which are now distracting, and have for years past divided, the country.
"If the Senator correctly described me as having at a former period, against my own preferences and opinions, acquiesced in the decision of my party; if, when I had youth, when physical vigor gave promise of many days, and the future was painted in the colors of hope, I could thus surrender my own convictions, my own prejudices, and cooeperate with my political friends according to their views of the best method of promoting the public good—now, when the years of my future can not be many, and experience has sobered the hopeful tints of youth's gilding; when, approaching the evening of life, the shadows are reversed, and the mind turns retrospectively, it is not to be supposed that I would abandon lightly, or idly put on trial, the party to which I have steadily adhered. It is rather to be assumed that conservatism, which belongs to the timidity or caution of increasing years, would lead me to cling to, to be supported by, rather than to cast off, the organization with which I have been so long connected. If I am driven to consider the necessity of separating myself from those old and dear relations, of discarding the accustomed support, under circumstances such as I have described, might not my friends who differ from me pause and inquire whether there is not something involved in it which calls for their careful revision?
"I desire no divided flag for the Democratic party.
"Our principles are national; they belong to every State of the Union; and, though elections may be lost by their assertion, they constitute the only foundation on which we can maintain power, on which we can again rise to the dignity the Democracy once possessed. Does not the Senator from Illinois see in the sectional character of the vote be received, that his opinions are not acceptable to every portion of the country? Is not the fact that the resolutions adopted by seventeen States, on which the greatest reliance must be placed for Democratic support, are in opposition to the dogma to which he still clings, a warning that, if he persists and succeeds in forcing his theory upon the Democratic party, its days are numbered? We ask only for the Constitution. We ask of the Democracy only from time to time to declare, as current exigencies may indicate, what the Constitution was intended to secure and provide. Our flag bears no new device. Upon its folds our principles are written in living light; all proclaiming the constitutional Union, justice, equality, and fraternity of our ocean-bound domain, for a limitless future."
[Footnote 14: The words, "within the limits of its constitutional powers," were subsequently added to this resolution, on the suggestion of Mr. Toombs, of Georgia, with the approval of the mover.]
[Footnote 15: The speech of the author, delivered on the 7th of May ensuing, in exposition of these resolutions, will be found in Appendix F.]
[Footnote 16: In the Democratic Convention, which had been recently held in Charleston. (See the ensuing chapter.)]
A Retrospect.—Growth of Sectional Rivalry.—The Generosity of Virginia.—Unequal Accessions of Territory.—The Tariff and its Effects.—The Republican Convention of 1860, its Resolutions and its Nominations.—The Democratic Convention at Charleston, its Divisions and Disruption.—The Nominations at Baltimore.—The "Constitutional-Union" Party and its Nominees.—An Effort in Behalf of Agreement declined by Mr. Douglas.—The Election of Lincoln and Hamlin.—Proceedings in the South.—Evidences of Calmness and Deliberation.—Mr. Buchanan's Conservatism and the weakness of his Position.—Republican Taunts.—The "New York Tribune," etc.
When, at the close of the war of the Revolution, each of the thirteen colonies that had been engaged in that contest was severally acknowledged by the mother-country, Great Britain, to be a free and independent State, the confederation of those States embraced an area so extensive, with climate and products so various, that rivalries and conflicts of interest soon began to be manifested. It required all the power of wisdom and patriotism, animated by the affection engendered by common sufferings and dangers, to keep these rivalries under restraint, and to effect those compromises which it was fondly hoped would insure the harmony and mutual good offices of each for the benefit of all. It was in this spirit of patriotism and confidence in the continuance of such abiding good will as would for all time preclude hostile aggression, that Virginia ceded, for the use of the confederated States, all that vast extent of territory lying north of the Ohio River, out of which have since been formed five States and part of a sixth. The addition of these States has accrued entirely to the preponderance of the Northern section over that from which the donation proceeded, and to the disturbance of that equilibrium which existed at the close of the war of the Revolution.
It may not be out of place here to refer to the fact that the grievances which led to that war were directly inflicted upon the Northern colonies. Those of the South had no material cause of complaint; but, actuated by sympathy for their Northern brethren, and a devotion to the principles of civil liberty and community independence, which they had inherited from their Anglo-Saxon ancestry, and which were set forth in the Declaration of Independence, they made common cause with their neighbors, and may, at least, claim to have done their full share in the war that ensued.
By the exclusion of the South, in 1820, from all that part of the Louisiana purchase lying north of the parallel of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes, and not included in the State of Missouri, by the extension of that line of exclusion to embrace the territory acquired from Texas; and by the appropriation of all the territory obtained from Mexico under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, both north and south of that line, it may be stated with approximate accuracy that the North had monopolized to herself more than three fourths of all that had been added to the domain of the United States since the Declaration of Independence. This inequality, which began, as has been shown, in the more generous than wise confidence of the South, was employed to obtain for the North the lion's share of what was afterward added at the cost of the public treasure and the blood of patriots. I do not care to estimate the relative proportion contributed by each of the two sections.
Nor was this the only cause that operated to disappoint the reasonable hopes and to blight the fair prospects under which the original compact was formed. The effects of discriminating duties upon imports have been referred to in a former chapter—favoring the manufacturing region, which was the North; burdening the exporting region, which was the South; and so imposing upon the latter a double tax: one, by the increased price of articles of consumption, which, so far as they were of home production, went into the pockets of the manufacturer; the other, by the diminished value of articles of export, which was so much withheld from the pockets of the agriculturist. In like manner the power of the majority section was employed to appropriate to itself an unequal share of the public disbursements. These combined causes—the possession of more territory, more money, and a wider field for the employment of special labor—all served to attract immigration; and, with increasing population, the greed grew by what it fed on.
This became distinctly manifest when the so-called "Republican" Convention assembled in Chicago, on May 16, 1860, to nominate a candidate for the Presidency. It was a purely sectional body. There were a few delegates present, representing an insignificant minority in the "border States," Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri; but not one from any State south of the celebrated political line of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes. It had been the invariable usage with nominating conventions of all parties to select candidates for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency, one from the North and the other from the South; but this assemblage nominated Mr. Lincoln, of Illinois, for the first office, and for the second, Mr. Hamlin, of Maine—both Northerners. Mr. Lincoln, its nominee for the Presidency, had publicly announced that the Union "could not permanently endure, half slave and half free." The resolutions adopted contained some carefully worded declarations, well adapted to deceive the credulous who were opposed to hostile aggressions upon the rights of the States. In order to accomplish this purpose, they were compelled to create a fictitious issue, in denouncing what they described as "the new dogma that the Constitution, of its own force, carries slavery into any or all of the Territories of the United States"—a "dogma" which had never been held or declared by anybody, and which had no existence outside of their own assertion. There was enough in connection with the nomination to assure the most fanatical foes of the Constitution that their ideas would be the rule and guide of the party.
Meantime, the Democratic party had held a convention, composed as usual of delegates from all the States. They met in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 23d, but an unfortunate disagreement with regard to the declaration of principles to be set forth rendered a nomination impracticable. Both divisions of the Convention adjourned, and met again in Baltimore in June. Then, having finally failed to come to an agreement, they separated and made their respective nominations apart. Mr. Douglas, of Illinois, was nominated by the friends of the doctrine of "popular sovereignty," with Mr. Fitzpatrick, of Alabama, for the Vice-Presidency. Both these gentlemen at that time were Senators from their respective States. Mr. Fitzpatrick promptly declined the nomination, and his place was filled with the name of Mr. Herschel V. Johnson, a distinguished citizen of Georgia.
The Convention representing the conservative, or State-Rights, wing of the Democratic-party (the President of which was the Hon. Caleb Cushing, of Massachusetts), on the first ballot, unanimously made choice of John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky, then Vice-President of the United States, for the first office, and with like unanimity selected General Joseph Lane, then a Senator from Oregon, for the second. The resolutions of each of these two conventions denounced the action and policy of the Abolition party, as subversive of the Constitution, and revolutionary in their tendency.
Another convention was held in Baltimore about the same period by those who still adhered to the old Whig party, reenforced by the remains of the "American" organization, and perhaps some others. This Convention also consisted of delegates from all the States, and, repudiating all geographical and sectional issues, and declaring it to be "both the part of patriotism and of duty to recognize no political principle other than the Constitution of the country, the Union of the States, and the enforcement of the laws," pledged itself and its supporters "to maintain, protect, and defend, separately and unitedly, those great principles of public liberty and national safety against all enemies at home and abroad." Its nominees were Messrs. John Bell, of Tennessee, and Edward Everett, of Massachusetts, both of whom had long been distinguished members of the Whig party.
The people of the United States now had four rival tickets presented to them by as many contending parties, whose respective position and principles on the great and absorbing question at issue may be briefly recapitulated as follows:
1. The "Constitutional-Union" Party, as it was now termed, led by Messrs. Bell and Everett, which ignored the territorial controversy altogether, and contented itself, as above stated, with a simple declaration of adherence to "the Constitution, the Union, and the enforcement of the laws."
2. The party of "popular sovereignty," headed by Douglas and Johnson, who affirmed the right of the people of the Territories, in their territorial condition, to determine their own organic institutions, independently of the control of Congress; denying the power or duty of Congress to protect the persons or property of individuals or minorities in such Territories against the action of majorities.
3. The State-Rights party, supporting Breckinridge and Lane, who held that the Territories were open to citizens of all the States, with their property, without any inequality or discrimination, and that it was the duty of the General Government to protect both persons and property from aggression in the Territories subject to its control. At the same time they admitted and asserted the right of the people of a Territory, on emerging from their territorial condition to that of a State, to determine what should then be their domestic institutions, as well as all other questions of personal or proprietary right, without interference by Congress, and subject only to the limitations and restrictions prescribed by the Constitution of the United States.
4. The so-called "Republicans," presenting the names of Lincoln and Hamlin, who held, in the language of one of their leaders, that "slavery can exist only by virtue of municipal law"; that there was "no law for it in the Territories, and no power to enact one"; and that Congress was "bound to prohibit it in or exclude it from any and every Federal Territory." In other words, they asserted the right and duty of Congress to exclude the citizens of half the States of the Union from the territory belonging in common to all, unless on condition of the sacrifice or abandonment of their property recognized by the Constitution—indeed, of the only species of their property distinctly and specifically recognized as such by that instrument.
On the vital question underlying the whole controversy—that is, whether the Federal Government should be a Government of the whole for the benefit of all its equal members, or (if it should continue to exist at all) a sectional Government for the benefit of a part—the first three of the parties above described were in substantial accord as against the fourth. If they could or would have acted unitedly, they, could certainly have carried the election, and averted the catastrophe which followed. Nor were efforts wanting to effect such a union.
Mr. Bell, the Whig candidate, was a highly respectable and experienced statesman, who had filled many important offices, both State and Federal. He was not ambitious to the extent of coveting the Presidency, and he was profoundly impressed by the danger which threatened the country. Mr. Breckinridge had not anticipated, and it may safely be said did not eagerly desire, the nomination. He was young enough to wait, and patriotic enough to be willing to do so, if the weal of the country required it. Thus much I may confidently assert of both those gentlemen; for each of them authorized me to say that he was willing to withdraw, if an arrangement could be effected by which the divided forces of the friends of the Constitution could be concentrated upon some one more generally acceptable than either of the three who had been presented to the country. When I made this announcement to Mr. Douglas—with whom my relations had always been such as to authorize the assurance that he could not consider it as made in an unfriendly spirit—he replied that the scheme proposed was impracticable, because his friends, mainly Northern Democrats, if he were withdrawn, would join in the support of Mr. Lincoln, rather than of any one that should supplant him (Douglas); that he was in the hands of his friends, and was sure they would not accept the proposition.
It needed but little knowledge of the status of parties in the several States to foresee a probable defeat if the conservatives were to continue divided into three parts, and the aggressives were to be held in solid column. But angry passions, which are always bad counselors, had been aroused, and hopes were still cherished, which proved to be illusory. The result was the election, by a minority, of a President whose avowed principles were necessarily fatal to the harmony of the Union.
Of 303 electoral votes, Mr. Lincoln received 180, but of the popular suffrage of 4,676,853 votes, which the electors represented, he obtained only 1,866,352—something over a third of the votes. This discrepancy was owing to the system of voting by "general ticket"—that is, casting the State votes as a unit, whether unanimous or nearly equally divided. Thus, in New York, the total popular vote was 675,156, of which 362,646 were cast for the so-called Republican (or Lincoln) electors, and 312,510 against them. Now York was entitled to 35 electoral votes. Divided on the basis of the popular vote, 19 of these would have been cast for Mr. Lincoln, and 16 against him. But under the "general ticket" system the entire 35 votes were cast for the Republican candidates, thus giving them not only the full strength of the majority in their favor, but that of the great minority against them superadded. So of other Northern States, in which the small majorities on one side operated with the weight of entire unanimity, while the virtual unanimity in the Southern States, on the other side, counted nothing more than a mere majority would have done.
The manifestations which followed this result, in the Southern States, did not proceed, as has been unjustly charged, from chagrin at their defeat in the election, or from any personal hostility to the President-elect, but from the fact that they recognized in him the representative of a party professing principles destructive to "their peace, their prosperity, and their domestic tranquillity." The long-suppressed fire burst into frequent flame, but it was still controlled by that love of the Union which the South had illustrated in every battle-field, from Boston to New Orleans. Still it was hoped, against hope, that some adjustment might be made to avert the calamities of a practical application of the theory of an "irrepressible conflict." Few, if any, then doubted the right of a State to withdraw its grants delegated to the Federal Government, or, in other words, to secede from the Union; but in the South this was generally regarded as the remedy of last resort, to be applied only when ruin or dishonor was the alternative. No rash or revolutionary action was taken by the Southern States, but the measures adopted were considerate, and executed advisedly and deliberately. The Presidential election occurred (as far as the popular vote, which determined the result, was concerned) in November, 1860. Most of the State Legislatures convened soon afterward in regular session. In some cases special sessions were convoked for the purpose of calling State Conventions—the recognized representatives of the sovereign will of the people—to be elected expressly for the purpose of taking such action as should be considered needful and proper under the existing circumstances.
These conventions, as it was always held and understood, possessed all the power of the people assembled in mass; and therefore it was conceded that they, and they only, could take action for the withdrawal of a State from the Union. The consent of the respective States to the formation of the Union had been given through such conventions, and it was only by the same authority that it could properly be revoked. The time required for this deliberate and formal process precludes the idea of hasty or passionate action, and none who admit the primary power of the people to govern themselves can consistently deny its validity and binding obligation upon every citizen of the several States. Not only was there ample time for calm consideration among the people of the South, but for due reflection by the General Government and the people of the Northern States.
President Buchanan was in the last year of his administration. His freedom from sectional asperity, his long life in the public service, and his peace-loving and conciliatory character, were all guarantees against his precipitating a conflict between the Federal Government and any of the States; but the feeble power that he possessed in the closing months of his term to mold the policy of the future was painfully evident. Like all who had intelligently and impartially studied the history of the formation of the Constitution, he held that the Federal Government had no rightful power to coerce a State. Like the sages and patriots who had preceded him in the high office that he filled, he believed that "our Union rests upon public opinion, and can never by cemented by the blood of its citizens shed in civil war. If it can not live in the affections of the people, it must one day perish. Congress may possess many means of preserving it by conciliation, but the sword was not placed in their hand to preserve it by force."—(Message of December 3, 1860.)
Ten years before, Mr. Calhoun addressing the Senate with all the earnestness of his nature and with that sincere desire to avert the danger of disunion which those who knew him best never doubted, had asked the emphatic question, "How can the Union be saved?" He answered his question thus:
"There is but one way by which it can be [saved] with any certainty; and that is by a full and final settlement, on the principles of justice, of all the questions at issue between the sections. The South asks for justice—simple justice—and less she ought not to take. She has no compromise to offer but the Constitution, and no concession or surrender to make....
"Can this be done? Yes, easily! Not by the weaker party; for it can of itself do nothing—not even protect itself—but by the stronger.... But will the North agree to do this? It is for her to answer this question. But, I will say, she can not refuse if she has half the love of the Union which she professes to have, nor without exposing herself to the charge that her love of power and aggrandizement is far greater than her love of the Union."
During the ten years that intervened between the date of this speech and the message of Mr. Buchanan cited above, the progress of sectional discord and the tendency of the stronger section to unconstitutional aggression had been fearfully rapid. With very rare exceptions, there were none in 1850 who claimed the right of the Federal Government to apply coercion to a State. In 1860 men had grown to be familiar with threats of driving the South into submission to any act that the Government, in the hands of a Northern majority, might see fit to perform. During the canvass of that year, demonstrations had been made by quasi-military organizations in various parts of the North, which looked unmistakably to purposes widely different from those enunciated in the preamble to the Constitution, and to the employment of means not authorized by the powers which the States had delegated to the Federal Government.
Well-informed men still remembered that, in the Convention which framed the Constitution, a proposition was made to authorize the employment of force against a delinquent State, on which Mr. Madison remarked that "the use of force against a State would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment, and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might have been bound." The Convention expressly refused to confer the power proposed, and the clause was lost. While, therefore, in 1860, many violent men, appealing to passion and the lust of power, were inciting the multitude, and preparing Northern opinion to support a war waged against the Southern States in the event of their secession, there were others who took a different view of the case. Notable among such was the "New York Tribune," which had been the organ of the abolitionists, and which now declared that, "if the cotton States wished to withdraw from the Union, they should be allowed to do so"; that "any attempt to compel them to remain, by force, would be contrary to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and to the fundamental ideas upon which human liberty is based"; and that, "if the Declaration of Independence justified the secession from the British Empire of three millions of subjects in 1776, it was not seen why it would not justify the secession of five millions of Southerners from the Union in 1861." Again, it was said by the same journal that, "sooner than compromise with the South and abandon the Chicago platform," they would "let the Union slide." Taunting expressions were freely used—as, for example, "If the Southern people wish to leave the Union, we will do our best to forward their views."
All this, it must be admitted, was quite consistent with the oft-repeated declaration that the Constitution was a "covenant with hell," which stood as the caption of a leading abolitionist paper of Boston. That signs of coming danger so visible, evidences of hostility so unmistakable, disregard of constitutional obligations so wanton, taunts and jeers so bitter and insulting, should serve to increase excitement in the South, was a consequence flowing as much from reason and patriotism as from sentiment. He must have been ignorant of human nature who did not expect such a tree to bear fruits of discord and division.
[Footnote 17: May 19, 1860.]
[Footnote 18: Horace Greeley, "The American Conflict," vol. i, p. 322.]
Conference with the Governor of Mississippi.—The Author censured as "too slow."—Summons to Washington.—Interview with the President.—His Message.—Movements in Congress.—The Triumphant Majority.—The Crittenden Proposition.—Speech of the Author on Mr. Green's Resolution.—The Committee of Thirteen.—Failure to agree.—The "Republicans" responsible for the Failure.—Proceedings in the House of Representatives.—Futility of Efforts for an Adjustment.—The Old Year closes in Clouds.
In November, 1860, after the result of the Presidential election was known, the Governor of Mississippi, having issued his proclamation convoking a special session of the Legislature to consider the propriety of calling a convention, invited the Senators and Representatives of the State in Congress, to meet him for consultation as to the character of the message he should send to the Legislature when assembled.
While holding, in common with my political associates, that the right of a State to secede was unquestionable, I differed from most of them as to the probability of our being permitted peaceably to exercise the right. The knowledge acquired by the administration of the War Department for four years, and by the chairmanship of the Military Committee of the Senate at two different periods, still longer in combined duration, had shown me the entire lack of preparation for war in the South. The foundries and armories were in the Northern States, and there were stored all the new and improved weapons of war. In the arsenals of the Southern States were to be found only arms of the old and rejected models. The South had no manufactories of powder, and no navy to protect our harbors, no merchant-ships for foreign commerce. It was evident to me, therefore, that, if we should be involved in war, the odds against us would be far greater than what was due merely to our inferiority in population. Believing that secession would be the precursor of war between the States, I was consequently slower and more reluctant than others, who entertained a different opinion, to resort to that remedy.
While engaged in the consultation with the Governor just referred to, a telegraphic message was handed to me from two members of Mr. Buchanan's Cabinet, urging me to proceed "immediately" to Washington. This dispatch was laid before the Governor and the members of Congress from the State who were in conference with him, and it was decided that I should comply with the summons. I was afterward informed that my associates considered me "too slow," and they were probably correct in the belief that I was behind the general opinion of the people of the State as to the propriety of prompt secession.
On arrival at Washington, I found, as had been anticipated, that my presence there was desired on account of the influence which it was supposed I might exercise with the President (Mr. Buchanan) in relation to his forthcoming message to Congress. On paying my respects to the President, he told me that he had finished the rough draft of his message, but that it was still open to revision and amendment, and that he would like to read it to me. He did so, and very kindly accepted all the modifications which I suggested. The message was, however, afterward somewhat changed, and, with great deference to the wisdom and statesmanship of its author, I must say that, in my judgment, the last alterations were unfortunate—so much so that, when it was read in the Senate, I was reluctantly constrained to criticise it. Compared, however, with documents of the same class which have since been addressed to the Congress of the United States, the reader of Presidential messages must regret that it was not accepted by Mr. Buchanan's successors as a model, and that his views of the Constitution had not been adopted as a guide in the subsequent action of the Federal Government.
The popular movement in the South was tending steadily and rapidly toward the secession of those known as "planting States"; yet, when Congress assembled on December 3, 1860 the representatives of the people of all those States took their seats in the House, and they were all represented in the Senate, except South Carolina, whose Senators had tendered their resignation to the Governor immediately on the announcement of the result of the Presidential election. Hopes were still cherished that the Northern leaders would appreciate the impending peril, would cease to treat the warnings, so often given, as idle threats, would refrain from the bravado, so often and so unwisely indulged, of ability "to whip the South" in thirty, sixty, or ninety days, and would address themselves to the more manly purpose of devising means to allay the indignation, and quiet the apprehensions, whether well, founded or not, of their Southern brethren. But the debates of that session manifest, on the contrary, the arrogance of a triumphant party, and the determination to reap to the uttermost the full harvest of a party victory.
Mr. Crittenden, of Kentucky, the oldest and one of the most honored members of the Senate, introduced into that body a joint resolution proposing certain amendments to the Constitution—among them the restoration and incorporation into the Constitution of the geographical line of the Missouri Compromise, with other provisions, which it was hoped might be accepted as the basis for an adjustment of the difficulties rapidly hurrying the Union to disruption. But the earnest appeals of that venerable statesman were unheeded by Senators of the so-called Republican party. Action upon his proposition was postponed from time to time, on one pretext or another, until the last day of the session—when seven States had already withdrawn from the Union and established a confederation of their own—and it was then defeated by a majority of one vote.
Meantime, among other propositions made in the Senate were two introduced early in the session, which it may be proper specially to mention. One of these was a resolution offered by Mr. Powell, of Kentucky, which, after some modification by amendment, when finally acted upon, had taken the following form:
"Resolved, That so much of the President's message as relates to the present agitated and distracted condition of the country, and the grievances between the slaveholding and the non-slave holding States, be referred to a special committee of thirteen members, and that said committee be instructed to inquire into the present condition of the country, and report by bill or otherwise."
The other was a resolution offered by Mr. Green, of Missouri, to the following effect:
"Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary be instructed to inquire into the propriety of providing by law for establishing an armed police force at all necessary points along the line separating the slaveholding States from the non-slaveholding States, for the purpose of maintaining the general peace between those States, of preventing the invasion of one State by citizens of another, and also for the efficient execution of the fugitive-slave laws."
In the discussion of these two resolutions I find, in the proceedings of the Senate on December 10th, as reported in the "Congressional Globe," some remarks of my own, the reproduction of which will serve to exhibit my position at that period—a position which has since been often misrepresented:
"Mr. President, if the political firmament seemed to me dark before, there has been little in the discussion this morning to cheer or illumine it. When the proposition of the Senator from Kentucky was presented—not very hopeful of a good result—I was yet willing to wait and see what developments it might produce. This morning, for the first time, it has been considered; and what of encouragement have we received? One Senator proposes, as a cure for the public evil impending over us, to invest the Federal Government with such physical power as properly belongs to monarchy alone; another announces that his constituents cling to the Federal Government, if its legislative favors and its Treasury secure the works of improvement and the facilities which they desire; while another rises to point out that the evils of the land are of a party character. Sir, we have fallen upon evil times indeed, if the great convulsion which now shakes the body-politic to its center is to be dealt with by such nostrums as these. Men must look more deeply, must rise to a higher altitude; like patriots they must confront the danger face to face, if they hope to relieve the evils which now disturb the peace of the land, and threaten the destruction of our political existence.
"First of all, we must inquire what is the cause of the evils which beset us? The diagnosis of the disease must be stated before we are prepared to prescribe. Is it the fault of our legislation here? If so, then it devolves upon us to correct it, and we have the power. Is it the defect of the Federal organization, of the fundamental law of our Union? I hold that it is not. Our fathers, learning wisdom from the experiments of Rome and of Greece—the one a consolidated republic, and the other strictly a confederacy—and taught by the lessons of our own experiment under the Confederation, came together to form a Constitution for 'a more perfect union,' and, in my judgment, made the best government which has ever been instituted by man. It only requires that it should be carried out in the spirit in which it was made, that the circumstances under which it was made should continue, and no evil can arise under this Government for which it has not an appropriate remedy. Then it is outside of the Government—elsewhere than to its Constitution or to its administration—that we are to look. Men must not creep in the dust of partisan strife and seek to make points against opponents as the means of evading or meeting the issues before us. The fault is not in the form of the Government, nor does the evil spring from the manner in which it has been administered. Where, then, is it? It is that our fathers formed a Government for a Union of friendly States; and though under it the people have been prosperous beyond comparison with any other whose career is recorded in the history of man, still that Union of friendly States has changed its character, and sectional hostility has been substituted for the fraternity in which the Government was founded.