By john g. Nioolay and john hay



Download 4.94 Mb.
Page33/45
Date conversion21.02.2016
Size4.94 Mb.
1   ...   29   30   31   32   33   34   35   36   ...   45
THE BALANCE OP POWER 325

Texas. But even this was not all. The joint reso- ch. xym. lution contained a guarantee that " new States, of convenient size, not exceeding four in number, in addition to the said State of Texas," and to be formed out of her territory, should hereafter be entitled to admission — the Missouri Compromise line to govern the slavery question in them. The State of Texas was, by a later resolution, formally admitted to the Union, December 29, 1845. At this date, therefore, the slave States gained an actual majority of one, there being fourteen free States and fifteen slave States, with at least equal territorial prospects through future annexation.

If the North was alarmed at being thus placed in a minority, there was ample reason for still further disquietude. The annexation of Texas had provoked the Mexican war, and President Polk, in anticipation of further important acquisition of territory to the South and West, asked of Congress an appropriation of two millions to be used in negotiations to that end. An attempt to impose a condition to these negotiations that slavery should never exist in any territory to be thus acquired was the famous Wilmot Proviso. This particular measure failed, but the war ended, and New Mexico and California were added to the Union as un­organized Territories. Meanwhile the admission of "Wisconsin in 1848 had once more restored the equilibrium between the free and the slave States, there being now fifteen of each.

It must not be supposed that the important political measures and results thus far summa­rized were accomplished by quiet and harmonious legislation. Rising steadily after 1820, the contro-

326 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

ch. xvin. versy over slavery became deep and bitter, both in Congress and the country. Involving not merely a policy of government, but a question of abstract morals, statesmen, philanthropists, divines, the press, societies, churches, and legislative bodies joined in the discussion. Slavery was assailed and defended in behalf of the welfare of the state, and in the name of religion. In Congress espe­cially it had now been a subject of angry conten­tion for a whole generation. It obtruded itself into all manner of questions, and clung obstinately to numberless resolutions and bills. Time and again it had brought members into excited discus­sion, and to the very verge of personal conflict in the legislative halls. It had occasioned numerous threats to dissolve the Union, and in one or more instances caused members actually to retire from the House of Representatives. It had given rise to resolutions of censure, to resignations, and had been the occasion of some of the greatest legisla­tive debates of the nation. It had virtually created and annexed the largest State in the Union. In several States it had instigated abuse, intolerance, persecutions, trials, mobs, murders, destruction of property, imprisonment of freemen, retaliatory legislation, and one well-defined and formidable attempt at revolution. It originated party fac­tions, political schools, and constitutional doc­trines, and made and marred the fame of great statesmen.

New Mexico, when acquired, contained one of the oldest towns on the continent, and a consid­erable population of Spanish origin. California, almost simultaneously with her acquisition, was

THE BALANCE' OF £OWEB " 327

peopled in the course of a few months by the ch. xvnr. world-renowned gold discoveries. Very unexpect­edly, therefore, to politicians of all grades and opinions, the slavery question was once more before the nation in the year 1850, over the propo­sition to admit both to the Union as States. As the result of the long conflict of opinion hitherto maintained, the beliefs and desires of the contend­ing sections had by this time become formulated in distinct political doctrines. The North con­tended that Congress might and should prohibit slavery in all the territories of the Union, as had been done in the Northern half by the Ordinance of 1787 and by the Missouri Compromise. The South declared that any such exclusion would not only be unjust and impolitic, but absolutely uncon­stitutional, because property in slaves might enter and must be protected in the territories in com­mon with all other property. To the theoretical dispute was added a practical contest. By the existing Mexican laws slavery was already pro­hibited in New Mexico, and California promptly formed a free State constitution. Under these circumstances the North sought to organize the former as a Territory, and admit the latter as a State, while the South resisted and endeavored to extend the Missouri Compromise Hne, which would place New Mexico and the southern half of Cali­fornia under the tutelage and influence of slavery. These were the principal points of difference which caused the great slavery agitation of 1850. The whole country was convulsed in discussion; and again more open threats and more ominous movements towards disunion came from the South.

328 ABEAHAM LINCOLN

ch. xviii. The most popular statesman of that day, Henry Clay, of Kentucky, a slaveholder opposed to the extension of slavery, now, however, assumed the leadership of a party of compromise, and the quarrel was adjusted and quieted by a combined series of Congressional acts. 1. California was admitted as a free State. 2. The Territories of New Mexico and Utah were organized, leaving the Mexican prohibition of slavery in force. 3. The domestic slave-trade in the District of Columbia was abolished. 4. A more stringent fugitive-slave law was passed. 5. For the adjustment of her State boundaries Texas received ten millions of dollars.

These were the famous compromise measures of 1850. It has been gravely asserted that this indemnity of ten millions, suddenly trebling the value of the Texas debt, and thereby affording an unprecedented opportunity for speculation in the bonds of that State, was "the propelling force whereby these acts were pushed through Congress in defiance of the original convictions of a major­ity ,of its members." But it must also be admitted that the popular desire for tranquillity, concord, and union in all sections never exerted so much influence upon Congress as then. This compro­mise was not at first heartily accepted by the people ; Southern opinion being offended by the abandonment of the "property" doctrine, and Northern sentiment irritated by certain harsh features of the fugitive-slave law. But the rising Union feeling quickly swept away all ebullitions of discontent, and during two or three years peo­ple and politicians fondly dreamed they had, in

THE BALANCE OF POWEB 329

current phraseology, reached a " finality "x on this ch. xvm. vexed quarrel. The nation settled itself for a period of quiet to repair the waste and utilize the conquests of the Mexican war. It became ab­sorbed in the expansion of its commerce, the development of its manufactures, and the growth of its emigration, all quickened .by the riches of its marvelous gold-fields; until unexpectedly and suddenly it found itself plunged once again into political controversies more distracting and more ominous than the worst it had yet experienced.

i Grave doubts, however, found occasional expression, and none perhaps more forcibly than in the following newspaper epigram -describing " Finality " :

To kill twice dead a rattlesnake, And. off his scaly skin to take, And through his head to drive a stake, And every bone within him break, And of his flesh mincemeat to make, To burn, to sear, to boil, and bake, Then in a heap the whole to rake, And over it the besom shake, And sink it fathoms in the lake — Whence after all, quite wide awake, Comes back that very same old snake!

CHAPTER XIX

THE REPEAL OF THE MISSOURI COMPROMISE

chap. xix. npHE long contest in Congress over the com--L promise measures of 1850, and the reluctance of a minority, alike in the North and the South, to accept them, had in reality seriously demoralized both the great political parties of the country. The Democrats especially, defeated by the fresh military laurels of General Taylor in 1848, were much exercised to discover their most available candidate as the presidential election of 1852 ap­proached. The leading names, Cass, Buchanan, and Marcy, having been long before the public, were becoming a little stale. In this contingency, a considerable following grouped itself about an entirely new man, Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois. Emigrating from Vermont to the West, Douglas had run a career remarkable for political success. Only in his thirty-ninth year, he had served as member of the legislature, as State's-Attorney, as Secretary of State, and as judge of the Supreme Court in Illinois, and had since been three times elected to Congress and once to the Senate of the United States. Nor did he owe his political for­tunes entirely to accident. Among his many qualities of leadership were strong physical endur-

THE EEPEAL OF THE MISSOURI COMPROMISE 331

ance, untiring industry, a persistent boldness, a chap.xix. ready facility in public speaking, unfailing political shrewdness, an unusual power in running debate, with liberal instincts and progressive purposes. It was therefore not surprising that he should attract the admiration and support of the young, the ardent, and especially the restless and ambitious members of his party. His career in Congress was suffi­ciently conspicuous. As Chairman of the Commit­tee on Territories in the Senate, he had borne a prominent part in the enactment of the compro­mise measures of 1850, and had just met and over­come a threatened party schism in his own State, which that legislation had there produced.

In their eagerness to push his claims to the presidency, the partisans of Douglas committed a great error. Eightly appreciating the growing power of the press, they obtained control of the "Democratic Review," a monthly magazine then prominent as a party organ, and published in it a series of articles attacking the rival Democratic candidates in very flashy rhetoric. These were stigmatized as " old fogies," who must give ground to a nominee of "Young America." They were reminded that the party expects a "new man." "Age is to be honored, but senility is pitiable"; " statesmen of a previous generation must get out of the way"; the Democratic party was owned by a set of " old clothes-horses "; " they couldn't pay their political promises in four Democratic ad­ministrations "; and the names of Cass and Marcy, Buchanan and Butler, were freely mixed in with such epithets as "pretenders," "hucksters," "in­truders," and " vile charlatans."

332 ABEAHAM LINCOLN

chap. xix. Such characterization of such men soon created a flagrant scandal in the Democratic party, which was duly aired both in the newspapers and in Con­gress. It definitely fixed the phrases " old fogy " and "Young America" in our slang literature. The personal friends of Douglas hastened to ex­plain and assert his innocence of any complicity with this political raid, but they were not more than half believed; and the war of factions, begun in January, raged with increasing bitterness till the Democratic National Convention met at Baltimore in June, and undoubtedly exerted a decisive influ­ence over the deliberations of that body.

The only serious competitors for the nomination were the " old fogies " Cass, Marcy, and Buchanan on the one hand, and Douglas, the pet of " Young America," on the other. Jt soon became evident that opinion was so divided among these four that a nomination could only be reached through long and tedious ballotings. Beginning with some 20 votes, Douglas steadily gained adherents till on the 30th ballot he received 92. From this point, however, his strength fell away. Unable himself to succeed, he was nevertheless sufficiently power­ful to defeat his adversaries. The exasperation had been too great to permit a concentration or compromise on any of the "seniors." Cass reached only 131 votes; Marcy, 98; Buchanan, 104; and finally, on the 49th ballot, occurred the memorable nearly unanimous selection of Franklin Pierce — not because of any merit of his own, but to break the insurmountable dead-lock of factional hatred. Young America gained a nominal tri­umph, old fogydom a real revenge, and the South

THE KEPEAL OF THE MISSOtTKI COMPEOMISE 333

a serviceable Northern ally. Douglas and his chap.xix. friends were discomfited but not dismayed. Their management had been exceedingly maladroit, as a more modest championship would without doubt have secured him the coveted nomination. Yet sagacious politicians foresaw that on the whole he was strengthened by his defeat. From that time forward he was a recognized presidential aspirant and competitor, young enough patiently to bide his time, and of sufficient prestige to make his flag the rallying point of all the free-lances in the Democratic party.

It is to this presidential aspiration of Mr. Douglas that we must look as the explanation of his agency in bringing about the repeal of the Missouri Com­promise. As already said, after some factious op­position the measures of 1850 had been accepted by the people as a finality of the slavery question. Around this alleged settlement, distasteful as it was to many, public opinion gradually crystallized. Both the National Conventions of 1852 solemnly resolved that they would discountenance and resist, in Congress or out of it, whenever, wherever, or however, or under whatever color or shape, any further renewal of the slavery agitation. This determination was echoed and reechoed, affirmed and reaffirmed, by the recognized organs of the public voice — from the village newspaper to the presidential message, from the country debating school to the measured utterances of senatorial discussion.

In support of this alleged " finality " no one had taken a more decided stand than Senator Douglas himself. Said he: "In taking leave of this subject

334

ABEAHAM LINCOLN


chap. XIX.

Appendix, " Congres­sional Globe," 1851-2,p. 68.

Douglas, Senate speech,

March 13,

1850. Ap­pendix,

" Congres­sional Globe," 1849-50, pp.

369 to 372.

I wish to state that I have determined never to make another speech upon the slavery question; and I will now add the hope that the necessity for it will never exist. . . So long as our opponents do not agitate for repeal or modification, why should we agitate for any purpose! We claim that the compromise [of 1850] is a final settlement. Is a final settlement open to discussion and agita­tion and controversy by its friends ? What manner of settlement is that which does not settle the difficulty and quiet the dispute? Are not the friends of the compromise becoming the agitators, and will not the country hold us responsible for that which we condemn and denounce in the aboli­tionists and Free-soilers ! These are matters wor­thy of our consideration. Those who preach peace should not be the first to commence and reopen an old quarrel." In his Senate speeches, during the compromise debates of 1850, while generally advo­cating his theory of "non-intervention," he had sounded the whole gamut of the slavery discussion, defending the various measures of adjustment against the attacks of the Southern extremists, and specifically defending the Missouri Compromise. More than this; he had declared in distinct words that the principle of territorial prohibition was no violation of Southern rights; and denounced the proposition of Oalhoun to put a " balance of power" clause into the Constitution as " a retro­grade movement in an age of progress that would astonish the world." These repeated affirmations, taken in connection with his famous description of the Missouri Compromise in 1849, in which he declared it to have had " an origin akin to the

1   ...   29   30   31   32   33   34   35   36   ...   45


The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2016
send message

    Main page